Seeking to dent President Obama’s refusal to chip away at the government shutdown piece-by-piece, House Republicans passed a bill Saturday to guarantee all federal employees get paid after the government shutdown — including those who have been sent home and aren’t on the job.
The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Virginia Reps. James P. Moran, a Democrat, and Frank Wolf, a Republican, cleared without opposition on a 407-0 vote, marking a major bipartisan breakthrough. The bill, which the Senate was not expected to take up this weekend, would ensure that hundreds of thousands furloughed government workers receive full back pay after lawmakers strike a deal to reopen the federal government.
“It’s encouraging to see both parties come together to provide fairness for the 800,000 federal workers hurt by this shutdown,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Now we should do something about the 800,000 jobs being destroyed by the president’s health care law. That’s why Republicans are working every day to reopen the government and provide fairness for all.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded by calling on Mr. Boehner to let the House vote on the stopgap spending measure, which passed out of the Senate and would fund government operations and Obamacare through the middle of November.
“A piecemeal approach of funding the government bit by bit is simply not the answer and saying, ‘We are going to pay you when we reopen this place’ - that is not the answer,” Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said on the floor of the Senate. “No matter how many bites Republicans take at the apple there is only one bill that ensures that every federal priority is met - the Senate bill that would fully reopen the federal government.”
On Friday the White House, which has issued veto threats of nearly every other shutdown bill the GOP has written, sent out a policy statement enthusiastically backing the federal employees bill.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, announced Saturday that it was ordering most of its 400,000 civilian employees who had been furloughed as a result of the government shutdown to return back to work at the beginning of next week.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a statement that the Pay Our Military Act that Congress passed last week allows him to “eliminate furloughs for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.”
“I expect us to be able to significantly reduce — but not eliminate — civilian furloughs under this process,” Mr. Hagel said.
“Today is day five of a shutdown created by the tea party extremists who are harming out country by holding out government hostage,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat. “They are placing our economy and our national security in jeopardy by waging an ideological war to overturn the law of the land and put insurance companies back in charge of health care decision for tens of millions of our fellow Americans.”
Democrats have insisted that either the entire government is funded or none of it will be. Republicans have countered by writing bills to fund specific high-profile programs such as the National Institutes of Health, the national parks and some social services.
Those bills have won a smattering of Democratic support in the House, but Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats have rejected the piecemeal strategy, saying they will not pick and choose among favored programs.
Passing the federal employees bill would not break that vow, since it won’t put any workers back on the job, but merely ensure everyone gets paid. All workers were paid after the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, too.
Republicans said it was striking that Mr. Obama has vowed to veto bills funding veterans’ services, the National Institutes of Health and the nation’s national parks, even as he said he’ll sign the federal employees bill.