By Andrew Taylor
WASHINGTON -- Their government has failed to keep the doors open and has told federal workers to stay off the job as the political parties fight over spending and health care in austere times.
Now Congress and President Barack Obama are sending this message to the 800,000 sidelined government employees: We don't know when the impasses will end but you will get reimbursed for lost pay once the government reopens.
With the partial shutdown entering its fifth day, the GOP-run House passed a bill Saturday that would make sure the furloughed workers get paid for not working. The White House backs the bill and the Senate was expected to OK it, too, but the timing was unclear.
The 407-0 vote in the House was uniquely bipartisan, even as lawmakers continued their partisan rhetoric.
"This is not their fault and they should not suffer as a result," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said of federal workers. "This bill is the least we should do. Our hard-working public servants should not become collateral damage in the political games and ideological wars that Republicans are waging."
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said federal workers shouldn't have to worry about paying their bills while Congress and the White House fight over financing the government.
"They have child care expenses, house payments to make, kids that are in college, and while the president refuses to negotiate, while he's playing politics, they shouldn't worry about whether or not they can make ends meet," Turner said.
But even as Congress and the White House rallied around the bill, one outside group said it "demonstrates the stupidity of the shutdown."
Making the shutdown less painful for 800,000 federal employees will encourage Congress and the White House to extend it even longer, driving up the cost, said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Ellis said "essential" federal workers who stayed on the job "will feel like suckers because they've been working while the others essentially are getting paid vacations."
The White House has opposed other piecemeal efforts by House Republicans to restore money to some functions of government during the partial shutdown. White House officials have said the House should reopen the entire government and not pick agencies and programs over others.