The Senate, led by Democrats, and the House, controlled by Republicans, passed very different budgets months ago but have yet to try to reconcile them in legislation the president could sign. In the absence of such a budget, lawmakers have funded the government through a succession of short-term continuing resolutions, such as the measure approved Wednesday.

Across the country Thursday, federal employees began streaming back to work, agencies that suspended some or all of their services rumbled back to life and the National Zoo in Washington turned its Panda Cam back on, allowing Americans to catch up with Mei Xing and her cub, Tai Shan.

The crowds returned Thursday morning to Baltimore's Penn Station, where area federal workers and contractors board trains to Washington.

On the first day of the shutdown, Hana Himelstein drove from her Upper Park Heights neighborhood to the Hmart grocery store in Catonsville to buy a "huge" sack of rice.

Himelstein, 52, a contract reader for a federal attorney, described the purchase as insurance against the "chutzpah" of Congress, its brinkmanship and the possibility that putting food on her family's plates might become difficult.

"I have four college-age kids, a blind husband and a mortgage," Himelstein said as she waited to catch a train to her first day back on the job. "I don't have time for games."

As a contractor, not a federal employee, Himelstein will not receive back pay.

"Hopefully we'll regroup," she said. For now, she was "relieved that the uncertainty is over and things can return to something resembling normal."

The shutdown was not Scott Sherlock's first. The 54-year-old Long Green man, an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency, had just left a private firm for the federal government when he was furloughed in 1995.

Sherlock called the experience a "source of great consternation" but said furloughs remain "unusual."

At Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, rangers were elated to get back to work. The park was run during the shutdown by an unpaid skeletal staff of law enforcement rangers and maintenance workers.

"It's like Christmas morning coming back," said Vince Vaise, chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry, with a wide smile on his face.

The 43-year-old Linthicum man said he relied on savings to support his family, which includes two young children.

"It's nice not to have to worry so much anymore," he said.

Tina Orcutt, the park superintendent, said she had to rein in her spending, particularly on food.

"I also had to figure out which bills I can pay now, which ones I can put on hold," the Woodstock woman said.

A mother of three, she said she spent her time away focused on her children — and the news.

"It was great to be able to do the stay-at-home mom thing," she said, "but there was the anxiety of when I'm going to get paid again."

Baltimore Sun reporter Nayana Davis contributed to this article.

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