Despite controlling one half of one third of the government, House Republicans initiated a federal shutdown for the first time in 17 years. By refusing to vote on a Continuing Resolution (CR) which was approved in the Senate and President Obama indicated he would sign, federal agencies were closed last week. This reckless action, orchestrated in a foolish, misguided attempt to defund Obamacare, has closed national parks and museums, delayed Social Security Payments, cut funds to Head Start and WIC, blocked lifesaving NIH research and furloughed nearly a million federal employees.
In an effort to mitigate some of the damage done by Republicans, I introduced H.R. 3223, the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act, a bipartisan bill to secure back-pay for furloughed federal employees, regardless of individual furlough status. By the time this bill came to the floor of the House for debate, 177 members, including 32 Republicans, had signed on as cosponsors. This past Saturday, it cleared the House unanimously, 407-0, a vote tally usually reserved for naming post offices. Majority Leader Reid has indicated the Senate will take up this measure and the President has offered his support.
During the shutdowns of the Clinton and Reagan administrations, back pay for “non-essential” personnel was approved by Congress. But given the current gridlock, passing a bill now rather than waiting to include the back pay provision in legislation to end the shutdown was the best move to secure federal employees’ pay.
Hundreds of furloughed federal workers called and visited my office last week. One essential attorney at the Justice Department faced losing her paycheck if she goes on maternity leave during the shutdown. Her baby is due any day. The parents of an adult child with disabilities wrote to me. They’ve had their budget constrained by a summer of sequester-related furloughs. Now they face the prospect of defaulting on their mortgage if the shutdown continues. The emotional toll the recent furloughs and current shutdown are having on our federal workforce is not insignificant.
Federal employees have families to feed, mortgages to pay, and children to raise. You don’t choose this career path for monetary gain. Rather, it is driven by a higher calling of public service, because of love of country and the opportunity to make people’s lives better. Already victims of Congressional dysfunction, shouldering the burdens of sequestration, multi-year pay freezes, and benefit cuts, our federal workforce shouldn’t be victimized by Congress’ inability to pass a budget.