House approves backpay for furloughed feds

Friday - 10/4/2013, 1:04pm EDT

Updated Oct. 5 at 11:00 a.m. with information on the bill's passage

The House voted unanimously Saturday morning to approve a bipartisan bill ensuring furloughed federal workers receive backpay once the government shutdown ends.

The vote on the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act was 407-0. Twenty-five members didn't vote.

The measure now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) had introduced a Senate version of the bill earlier this week.

Also boosting the bill's prospects for passage into law is support from the Obama administration. In a statement of administration policy issued Friday afternoon, the White House said it "strongly supports" passage of the House bill — a rare moment of bipartisan agreement since the government entered a partial shutdown on Tuesday.

Moran: Bill is about fairness

The bill, introduced Wednesday by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.), would guarantee both those employees required to work through the shutdown and those placed on unpaid leave receive backpay once Congress restores funding.

The House Rules Committee late Thursday evening fast-tracked the measure for a vote.

Some 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed while the government shutdown continues.

"It does provide these federal employees some peace of mind that they will get paid," Moran said. Although pay for both groups of employees would be delayed until after the shutdown lifts.

"Fairness is the most compelling reason for doing this," Moran said. "These folks didn't bring this about. They're trying to do their job; they want to do their job. They're coming in to work every day."

Wolf said Congress would be breaking with historical precedent if it failed to pay furloughed employees.

Following the 21-day shutdown in the mid-1990s, lawmakers eventually approved retroactive pay for furloughed federal workers.

"The federal workforce should not be punished because the administration and Congress and have been unable to reach an agreement on funding for the new fiscal year. ... Ensuring that all federal employees receive pay when the government reopens has always been done — in both the Reagan and Clinton administrations," Wolf said.

Backpay gaining bipartisan support

In the run-up to the shutdown, many federal-employee unions were girding themselves for a potential fight over backpay, fearing deficit-conscious conservative lawmakers would tighten the purse strings.

But opposition to retroactive pay may be weaker than the unions thought.

"No one can actually complain about this cost of this because, obviously, this is what we would be spending had there not been a shutdown," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), during the committee hearing. "So, there is no real unexpected cost or increased cost, which is why I think this is a brilliant piece of legislation."

The House Rules Committee has lumped the backpay measure in with a series of small stopgap funding measures that would reopen particular agencies. Democrats have derided the measure as a "piecemeal" approach to ending the shutdown.

While the President supports the retroactive-pay bill, he called on the House to pass the "clean" continuing resolution adopted by the Senate.

"This bill alone, however, will not address the serious consequences of the funding lapse, nor will a piecemeal approach to appropriations bills," the statement of administration policy read.

RELATED STORIES:

House bill ensures backpay for furloughed feds

Government shutdown: 4 things feds should know

Feds learn furlough status as shutdown looms