A day after the House Administration Committee released guidelines informing Members how to run their offices during a government shutdown, some lawmakers said they will not furlough a single staffer.
Nevertheless, employees are still uncertain about their fates.
Though Members were told staff has to fulfill a constitutional duty to work, lawmakers have wide latitude to choose who is “essential” and who is “nonessential” and would thus be furloughed, according to guidelines released Tuesday.
Members from both parties said their entire staffs will be working Monday regardless of whether Congressional leaders reach a budget deal.
In the event of a shutdown, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa said he would keep his employees at their desks.
“As far as I’m concerned, my intention is to furlough nobody, as an individual Member who believes those who choose to come into work fall under my Constitutional arm,” the California Republican said.
“My staff is going to be reporting to work,” Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) said. “I don’t like where we’re at, but my staff is going to be here with me trying to do our jobs and figure it out.”
Rep. Ander Crenshaw, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, noted that neither category is enviable.
“Either way, whether you’re essential or nonessential, you may or may not get paid,” the Florida Republican said. “But what I’m thinking about is, I’m still a Member of Congress, I’ve still got a job to do. I might have my whole staff be essential.”
Staffers would only receive back pay if Congress passes a provision in the next spending bill restoring pay for the time that the government was shuttered. That could take months or not happen at all.
One Democratic scheduler whose office was still working out its employment strategy said living a professional life on the razor’s edge is taking its toll. The staffer started a part-time job baby-sitting for extra income in case Congressional paychecks cease.
“With things like this looming every few weeks, you have to take care of yourself,” the staffer said. “I think that it puts you in a weird position. Part of it is, ‘Do I want to come into work if I’m not going to get paid for it anyway?’ The other part is that feeling nonessential is not a good feeling.”
That feeling also lingers among Capitol Visitor Center tour guides, who would be furloughed. In fact, the CVC en bloc would close, according to the guidelines.
Congress is “not thinking about us, about all the people that work for them,” one tour guide said. A shutdown is “going to hurt a lot of people, and hopefully, if it does happen, it won’t last too long.”
Megan Burger, interim president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 658, said she is meeting today with managers from the Architect of the Capitol’s office, which employs the CVC tour guides and visitor assistants whom her union represents.
Burger said they “hope to be working during the busiest time of the year.”
Despite the guidelines, questions linger. For instance, without tour guides, who will direct the hundreds of tourists that clog the Capitol halls each day?
House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren said that’s one of many queries that his staff is answering this week, especially because he wants to keep the Capitol open to the public.
He said he is giving a presentation to the Republican Conference today to clear up questions that his office is fielding, including what would happen with district lease agreements and whether certain facilities, such as the House gym, would stay open.
But by merely releasing the guidelines, Lungren has opened himself up to partisan sniping.
“It’s unfortunate that this is what’s being proposed by the other side,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said. “I think it is an indication they want to shut down the government.”
Lungren said choosing when to release the guidelines was a balancing act.
“You don’t want to put it out too soon because then people think you’re trying to leverage some negotiations, which is not my purpose,” he said. “I don’t want to put it out too late so that I add to the uncertainty.”
The Senate has yet to release similar guidelines directing its Members in the event of a shutdown. But Sen. John Hoeven, ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said it might have to soon.
“If it comes to that, we’ll go through it and make sure we have something in place,” the North Dakota Republican said. “We’ll make sure essential services are taken care of.”
At least one thing is certain: Security is essential, so the Capitol Police will be on duty.
Chief Phillip Morse said the department has prepared a contingency plan.
“The Capitol will be safe,” Morse said. “Capitol Police is prepared for many different situations, and this is one of them.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.