Government Shutdown Update: Furloughed Feds Could Get Retroactive Pay


In a stroke of good luck Saturday for federal employees, and an almost laughable contradiction to the touted precepts of fiscal responsibility, the House voted unanimously (no really, unanimously!) in favor of a bill giving retroactive pay to 800,000 furloughed federal workers when they, eventually, return to work — despite the fact that they aren't being paid for work actually performed.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel additionally announced that most of the 400,000 furloughed civilian defense department employees will be allowed to return to return to work Monday following an interpretation of a provision of the Pay Our Military Act that appropriates funds to pay employees who "contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities, and readiness of service members."

Meanwhile, Congress is showing small signs of possibly resolving the government shutdown. Earlier this week, Republicans proposed pursuing piecemeal attempts to fund the popular segments of government (like national parks, museums, FEMA for the approaching storms, and the National Institutes of Health) until a deal can be reached. Democrats claim that the responsible action would be to reopen the entire government and are considering using a procedural tactic called a "discharge petition." A number of Republicans have said they would now vote in favor of a clean funding bill to end this stalemate, but House leadership is unlikely to allow a vote on such a bill in the first place. The discharge petition would allow such a bill, in this case the "Government Shutdown Prevention Act" filed back in March by James Lankford (R-Okla.) to be brought to a vote without leadership permission. Such a move could put pressure on moderate Republicans to pass the bill against the party's wishes, and potentially force a vote to reopen the government by October 14.

House Republicans are trying to defund the Affordable Care Act, lovingly termed Obamacare, and are holding back all attempts to pass an appropriations bill that doesn't include at least some change to the health care law. Democrats in the Senate have said that they will not negotiate on health care reform, at least not until the government is reopened.

In a show of solidarity with the American people, many representatives in Congress have given up their constitutionally mandated paychecks and furloughed parts of their staffs as well. Of course, this doesn't include everyone. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) one house member who has refused to pass a bill without changes to Obamacare, told NPR "I need my paycheck, that's the bottom line. And I understand that maybe there are some other members who are deferring their paycheck, and I think that's admirable. I'm not in the position." (Ellmers later backtracked under "intense pressure.")

It makes one wonder if any of those furloughed employees have said "You know, I could really use my paycheck too this week."