House passes bill to pay 'essential' feds on time if shutdown continues

Tuesday - 10/8/2013, 3:25pm EDT

Updated Oct. 9 at 8:20 a.m. to include House passage of the bill.

The House voted unanimously late Tuesday to pass a bill that ensures "essential" federal employees, who are working through the shutdown, are paid on time, even if the government remains closed.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) introduced the Federal Worker Pay Fairness Act Tuesday afternoon. The House Rules Committee quickly took the measure up. The full House then voted 420-0 in favor of the bill.

As many as 1.3 million federal employees were deemed essential and remained on the job after the government shut down last week, such as Capitol Police officers and Transportation Security Administration agents. If the shutdown drags on, these employees would have faced delays in receiving their paychecks on time.

Rogers' bill remedies this, appropriating the available funding to pay essential federal employees on time.

"Just like everyone else, they have mortgages to pay, they've got car payments, they've got utility bills, they've got mouths to feed," said Rep. Anders Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, who testified before the Rules Committee. "And for their work over the past week, and for the work they will continue to do until this shutdown ends, these men and women deserve to be paid on time."

While Democrats were generally supportive of the measure, they continued their call for House Republicans to bypass the need for such a measure and instead vote on a "clean" continuing resolution that would reopen all of the federal government.

In fact, in a statement of administration policy issued Tuesday afternoon, the White House said it would veto the bill if it were to gain approval in both the House and the Senate, because "it does nothing to solve the immediate, pressing obligations the Congress has to open the government and pay its bill."

The White House once again called on the House to vote on the Senate-passed continuing resolution.

House wants new budget 'working group'

Complicating matters is the fact that the House intends to tie the bill to another measure, the Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth Working Group Act, which would set up a special "working group" of Republicans and Democrats to solve the fiscal stalemate on fiscal 2014 funding.

"Obviously, this committee, this group, would be a group of bipartisan members who are designed to get this country back on track," said Rep. Pete Sessions (R- Texas), the chairman of the Rules Committee, who introduced that measure. "It is important that we do this because as the current limitations are taking place, we're simply talking past each other rather than talking to each other, and rather than working with each other in the best interests of the American people.

However Democrats on the committee compared the proposal unfavorably to the failed 2011 "supercommittee."

"I expected better," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the committee. "Another supercommittee, for crying out loud. Look what happened to the last one. Is there anything in your bill that makes them come to a conclusion. The last one just threw up its hands and said 'We can't do a thing.' This is leadership?"

The American Federation of Government Employees said it's concerned about the possible legislative proposals that could come out of such a committee.

The 2011 supercommittee "deliberated for months, but finally its failure to reach agreement resulted only in the imposition of sequestration, which has devastated federal agencies for the past six months or more, furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal employees for over a week," AFGE's legislative and political director, Beth Moten, wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Moten said AFGE said supports the Rogers pay bill.

Backpay for furloughed feds hits snag in Senate

Last week, the Republican-controlled House unanimously approved a bill to provide backpay for federal employees who were sidelined by the shutdown and sent home without pay.

However, the measure ran into opposition from Republicans in the Senate and has temporarily stalled.

"There's no sense of urgency for us to do it," said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), according to the Associated Press. "The federal government's shut down."

The White House supports the backpay measure.

About 800,000 federal workers were furloughed last week when congressional appropriations lapsed. Over the weekend, however, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans to recall most of the 350,000 furloughed DoD civilians, citing a law passed by Congress shortly before the shutdown went into effect.

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