House fails to pass bills to reopen parts of government

Wednesday - 10/2/2013, 5:32am EDT

Jason Miller reports from a rally on Capitol Hill.

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Two bills to reopen specific parts of the government failed Tuesday night to get the support of two-thirds of the House members' support, thus leaving the partial government shutdown intact to begin a second day.

Republican House lawmakers tried to push through one bill to fund the National Park Service and another measure to fund the Veterans Affairs Department for all of fiscal 2014. But few Democrats broke ranks and neither bill earned the two- thirds majority to move out of the House under the suspension rules.

A third bill to fund the District of Columbia for 2014 also failed to obtain enough votes to pass.

Even if the House would have passed any of the bills, the Senate likely would not have voted on or approved either of them, and the White House threatened to veto both measures.

"This is a game. There is no excuse for not opening up all of government. There is not any excuse for leaving some employees behind while you take care of others," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, during a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday before the vote on the bills. "There is no excuse for making the people of the United States suffer without their government in operation, and not simply selectively take some agencies and pretend you are going to drip, drip and drip open those. It's bad for government. It's bad for the economy. It's bad for national security. And it's bad for all people."

Rudy D'Alessandro, who works for the National Park Service, said he didn't support reopening only part of the government.

"I think we want all federal government agencies to go back to work before any one particular one does," D'Alessandro said after he spoke at the rally. "All of us or none of us."

Republican aides said all three bills that were sidetracked could be brought up again on Wednesday under rules requiring a mere majority to pass. They said the House might also vote on a measure to reopen the hospital at the NIH, after several Democrats cited the impact on patients.

Retroactive pay bill on hold

While those bills failed to get out of the House, Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Frank Wolfe (R-Va.) introduced the "Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act" late Monday. The bill would guarantee that both those employees required to work through the shutdown and those placed on unpaid leave receive backpay.

Moran said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is waiting to see how many sponsors the bill picks up before bringing it to the floor for a vote. Moran said there already are dozens and more signing up each day to sponsor the measure.

But he said unlike other shutdowns, getting federal employees backpay may not be easy

As the shutdown enters day two, lawmakers and representatives from the National Treasury Employees Union, the American Federation of Government Employees, and the National Federation of Federal Employees offered no optimism that the shutdown would be short-lived.

AFGE National President J. David Cox said the White House and Senate Democrats better stick to their positions and not cave in on the Affordable Care Act or these partial funding bills.

A push for a clean CR

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said Republicans should join Democrats to pass the clean continuing resolution passed by the Senate Monday.

"I guarantee you, I've talked to many Republicans on the other side. They are not happy, and believe me, they've indicated they will vote for that bill and we will get our country back again," he said.

As Congress continues to debate how to reopen the government, federal employees and their unions are trying to turn up the heat on lawmakers to pass a continuing resolution.

The rally Tuesday repeated the often-heard message of stop using federal employees as scapegoats.

Federal employees rallied on Capitol Hill Tuesday to let lawmakers know how they feel about the government shutdown. View a gallery of shutdown photos here. Send us your shutdown photos via email and we'll include them in the gallery. Be sure to include the photographer's name for proper photo attribution. (Photo by Jason Miller/Federal News Radio)

"Many see this as an inside the beltway issue. But that could not be further than the truth," said Colleen Kelley, the president of NTEU. "Eight-five percent of the federal workforce work outside the beltway in towns and communities across our great country. I'm here for them today because all of them are being used as pawns by some in Congress to score political points. So here we are, the first shutdown in 17 years."

Kelley said lawmakers need to realize these workers are real people with bills to pay, which will not wait for the government to reopen.

"They are middle America, and they live from paycheck to paycheck," she said. "Many already have been sent in the last few months for unpaid furlough days under the sequester. And all have had their pay froze for three years. They do not deserve to be treated like this. This has got to end today."

IRS employee worried

George Schlaffer works for the IRS as a revenue agent in Baltimore, and is one of those employees Kelley talked about. He was at the IRS in the 1990s during that shutdown, but said this shutdown could have a bigger impact on his family with two daughters in college.

He said the shutdown means the government is losing money.

"Revenue agents can't audit returns and get the tax owed to the government. I think they've showed that revenue agents bring in $10 for every $1 we are paid," Schlaffer said. "From the service point of view, you can't call on the phone if you have tax problem. The phones are shut down. The walk-ins for the elderly or the poor are shut down. So it's not good for anyone who needs service."

He said his office continued to work up until the shutdown Tuesday. But the threat of the shutdown was a distraction.

"It was very chaotic about whether you had to come in Tuesday or not," he said. "It was a joke. It was a circus. So there was wasted time and effort because of the stress and anxiety."

Schlaffer added the continued attacks on federal employees are taking their toll. He said long-time employees are fed up and retiring, and others who have been there only a short amount of time are looking for new jobs in the private sector.

Congressman John Delaney (D-Md.) said the continued attack on federal employees is part of a small minority in Congress who don't believe the government adds value to society.

The Senate is scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, and the House is expected to come back at 10 a.m.

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