With Congress hurtling toward a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government, some lawmakers are working to ensure federal workers will be paid in the event of a shutdown.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and a handful of other Democrats, including those representing scores of federal workers in Maryland and Virginia, introduced a bill Thursday to ensure federal workers furloughed in the event of a shutdown would be paid as soon as possible. An aide for Rep. Don Beyer Jr., who represents Northern Virginia, confirmed to CQ Roll Call Thursday afternoon that the Virginia Democrat plans to introduce a similar bill in the House.
Lawmakers say it's important to address this issue before the government shuts down, a scenario that appears increasingly likely with only a handful of legislative days left to fund the government.
"Our bill is the right thing to do and the fair thing to do. Federal workers are dedicated public servants who simply want to do their jobs on behalf of the American people. They shouldn’t suffer because of extreme partisan gamesmanship,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement.
During the Oct. 2013 shutdown, worker back pay became a contentious issue in Congress, stalling in the Senate , though Congress did eventually pass a measure approving retroactive pay. The Office of Management and Budget estimated roughly 850,000 workers were furloughed at the peak of the shutdown, and back pay would cost around $2 billion.
Questions of whether workers would receive pay for the time they were furloughed weighed on the minds and morale of workers, including those on Capitol Hill, in 2013. Workers were warned that if retroactive pay was not approved, they could lose benefits as well as salary.
The Senate bill seeks to take the question of worker pay out of the shutdown equation by guaranteeing retroactive pay "at the earliest date possible" for workers in all three branches of government. The Senate bill was filed under Rule XIV of the Standing Rules of the Senate, meaning it bypasses committee referral and is placed directly on the legislative calendar. But there is no guarantee the Senate will consider the bill before the funding deadline.
In the House, one lawmaker hoped this issue would be addressed on a bipartisan basis.
"Public employees, federal employees, have nothing to do with the shutdown and I think it's important to provide them with some assurance that they won't be the victims of this gridlock," House Budget ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who co-sponsored the 2013 back pay bill, told CQ Roll Call.
Asked about the likelihood of this issue being addressed before a shutdown, Van Hollen said, "We'd like to see [the bills] move." He added, "Last time around, it was in the middle of the shutdown when we passed some of these bills. And we did that on a bipartisan basis, so I would hope that people should agree on a bipartisan basis, innocent victims of Congress' gridlock won't be penalized."
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