MARC train at Penn Station

Passengers board a train to Washington at Baltimore's Penn Station, where some federal workers were on their way to Washington, D.C., returning to work (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / October 17, 2013)

As the late budget agreement cleared the way for federal workers across Maryland to go back to work and government offices to reopen Thursday, attention in Washington shifted to the next problem: striking a new deal before funding runs out again in three months.

The group of lawmakers that is now charged with developing a broader agreement on spending, taxes and entitlement reform met informally to discuss the work ahead but offered no sign that the long-sought but elusive grand bargain has become any more attainable.

"The question is, will the Republicans have learned the right lesson?" said Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County, one of 29 members named to the panel. "Will they have learned that you don't get your way by shutting down the government and not paying the bills?"

Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, voted for the deal late Wednesday to fund the government until Jan. 15 and lift the debt ceiling until Feb. 7.

Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County, Maryland's only Republican in Congress, voted against it. He predicted "we're going to be in the same place three to four months from now."

"Over the past three years … it's always a last-minute deal and there's always something tied to it," he said.

In Maryland, federal workers and those who rely on their services expressed relief that the 16-day shutdown had ended and the state's federal agencies, offices and national parks were back in business.

The deal came just in time for Marie Burpeau, who planned her visit Thursday to Fort McHenry in Baltimore months ago.

"I was really devastated when I heard it might not be open," the 88-year-old North Carolina woman said. A self-described history buff, she spoke excitedly about visiting the scene of the battle that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner" as son Kemp Burpeau pushed her wheelchair.

Maryland is home to about 300,000 federal workers. Tens of thousands were sent home without pay during the shutdown that began Oct. 1. Under the deal approved late Wednesday, they will now receive back pay for the days they missed. They're also on track to get a 1 percent raise beginning in January. The increase would follow a three-year wage freeze.

Danielle Johnson, who has worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for seven years, called the shutdown "an eye-opener.

"I've never been furloughed before, and I didn't know what to expect," the 41-year-old Baltimore woman said. "It's hard because you don't know what you can do. You can't go get another job. It's just waiting."

Richard D'Anna, a senior adviser at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, was not furloughed. But the Freeland man said the deal still came as a relief.

"Funding would have run out this week," D'Anna said. "This came just in time."

In a lengthy and somber address from the White House, President Barack Obama said the shutdown had "inflicted completely unnecessary" damage to the U.S. economy — Standard & Poor's estimated the loss at $24 billion — and Washington must stop lurching from one crisis to another.

"Disagreement cannot mean dysfunction. It can't degenerate into hatred," Obama said. "The American people's hopes and dreams are what matters, not ours. Our obligations are to them."

The president also spoke directly to federal workers, underscoring concerns that employee morale might have been hurt by the episode. He thanked employees for their service and welcomed them back to work.

"What you do is important. It matters," he said. "And don't let anybody else tell you different."

Obama laid out a legislative agenda for the coming months that included passing the stalled farm bill and an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. It was unclear whether the bruising budget battles would help or hurt those efforts.

At the Capitol, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said they would search for "common ground" as they try to forge a longer-term deal.