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House passes retroactive pay bill for furloughed feds

Oct. 5, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Rep. Jim Moran (Kris Connor/Getty Images)
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The House on Saturday unanimously approved a bipartisan bill to ensure back pay to hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees once a partial government shutdown ends.

The 407-0 vote came as vast swaths of government operations remained shuttered for a fifth day, with no end in sight as Congress remains deadlocked over passage of a stopgap spending bill. In the meantime, “our federal workforce should not wait to find out whether they’ll be paid,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said during floor debate.

“The issue is fairness,” said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., the bill’s lead sponsor. “It’s just wrong for hundreds of thousands of federal employees not to know whether they’ll be able to make their mortgage payment.”

The measure has the strong backing of the Obama administration, which said in a statement beforehand that it looks forward to the measure’s “swift passage.”

Although the administration has not furnished a total figure for the number of federal workers furloughed because of the closings that began Tuesday, labor unions put it at about 800,000, or roughly 40 percent of the total workforce. The shutdown is costing $300 million a day in lost productivity, Moran said.

Welcoming the House vote was the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, where President Joseph Beaudoin said it “would help to minimize the collateral damage inflicted on federal workers during the shutdown.

“Many of these employees have already endured unpaid furloughs due to sequestration and over 1,000 days of a federal pay freeze,” Beaudoin said in a statement. “They do not need to face an indefinite period without pay, as well.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., introduced a similar retroactive pay bill this week that has so far attracted more than two dozen co-sponsors. Cardin’s office is closed because of the shutdown; no one there could be reached for comment on the legislation’s prospects.

But Rogers said Saturday that the Senate plans to take up the House bill. Speaking before Saturday’s vote, Matt Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a union representing employees at NASA and other agencies, was optimistic. Should Moran’s bill pass the House, Biggs expected it to win Senate approval, as well.

“If they can get the vote in the House,” he said. “I think it looks pretty good.”

The overwhelming level of support for Moran’s measure came as a surprise even to some employee advocates. It contrasted sharply with lawmakers’ response two years ago when almost 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers were furloughed for about two weeks after members of Congress failed to pass a short-term reauthorization bill before leaving on their customary August break. In that instance, Congress never agreed to retroactive compensation for the affected FAA employees; the Transportation Department ultimately provided back pay after determining that lawmakers’ approval was not needed.

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