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Bill to pay furloughed feds hits snag in Senate

Oct. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
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Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is objecting to fast-track treatment of a House-passed bill ensuring that furloughed federal employees will receive back pay once a partial government shutdown ends. (Karen Bleier / Getty Images)

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A Republican senator is objecting to fast-track treatment of a House-passed bill ensuring that furloughed federal employees will receive back pay once a partial government shutdown ends.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, signaled that he may block attempts at a quick Senate consideration of the back pay bill, which depends on getting the “unanimous consent” of all senators. The reason, according to his spokeswoman Megan Mitchell on Tuesday, is that Cornyn “feels like it is premature to deal with furloughed federal workers before we deal with veterans, the [National Institutes of Health] and other issues.”

As the spending impasse enters its second week, the Republican-controlled House has passed numerous bills that selectively fund the NIH, Veterans Affairs Department and other higher-profile agencies. So far, however, the Democratic-controlled Senate has refused to take them up, with the Obama administration also opposing a “piecemeal approach” to paying for government operations.

The bill to provide back pay to furloughed federal employees, sponsored by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., passed the House 407-0 Saturday. If signed into law, it would require the government to retroactively pay all idled workers for their forced time off once the shutdown ends.

If senators instead opt to take up Moran’s bill under standard procedures, it could be subject to amendments or a filibuster, said Jessica Klement, legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

While the Defense Department is putting more than 300,000 furloughed civilians back to work this week, more than 400,000 others at DoD and other agencies remain home without pay, according to federal employee unions.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not respond to an email asking whether Reid planned to bring the back pay bill before the full Senate this week. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined comment.

On Tuesday, House Republicans advanced a different approach, linking retroactive pay legislation to a separate bill to create a 20-member bipartisan “working group” that would recommmend 2014 discretionary spending levels, changes in the nation’s debt ceiling and a possible overhaul of entitlement programs.

The proposed working group immediately drew comparisons to the ill-fated congressional “supercommittee” whose failure to reach agreement on a long-term deficit reduction deal in 2011 triggered this year’s sequester. This version of the back pay bill, sponsored by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., also passed unanimously 420-0. The accompanying legislation, sponsored by House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, was approved on a mostly party-line vote of 224-197.

In a statement, the White House again called on lawmakers to pass a “clean” continuing resolution to reopen the government and said that President Obama would veto the two-bill package if it were approved by Congress.

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