House Moves Towards Supporting Backpay for Federal Employees

On the second day of the government shutdown, signs emerged from the fractured House that Congress is likely to pay federal workers for the time lost

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Larry Downing / Reuters

A furloughed federal employee holds a sign on the steps to the U.S. Capitol after the government shut down on Capitol Hill on Oct. 1, 2013.

On the second day of the government shutdown, signs emerged from the fractured House that Congress is likely to pay federal workers for the time lost.

Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran and Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland have introduced measures in the House and Senate to retroactively pay the 800,000 workers who have been furloughed. This follows the example set after the last shutdown in 1995 and 1996, when federal employees were compensated for lost time.

Moran’s bill initially garnered 10 co-sponsors, 8 of them Democrats, all of them from Maryland, Virginia, and DC, three of the top five states with the highest percentage of government workers, according to Gallup. Cardin’s proposal has the same language and 14 co-sponsors, all Democrats. But since both resolutions were introduced at the beginning of the week, support for backpay has snowballed to representatives across the country and party lines, and in their remarks to TIME, many House Republicans have agreed that paying furloughed workers is the right thing to do.

“We all recognize that federal workers are an unintended consequence here. And they would be here working and taking their pay if they could,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), one of the most conservative members in the Republican conference. “I support paying furloughed workers.”

“It’s just simply not fair to them,” said House Deputy Whip Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “This is not their fault.”

“It’s regrettable—this government temporarily shutdown—so let’s get it open and let’s get the money back,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations committee, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) all told TIME they would support backpay.

Moran’s press office confirmed that by Wednesday night the resolution had garnered 97 co-sponsors, including 8 Republicans: Reps. Rob Wittman, Frank Wolf, Rob Bishop, Randy Forbes, Tim Griffin, Scott Rigell, Austin Scott, and Chris Smith. With a Democratic majority in the Senate that is likely to support back pay, the main question remains what the House leadership will do.

“We’re focused on getting Washington Democrats to the table so we can negotiate an end to the government shutdown,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner. “We haven’t addressed that issue at this point.”

During a government shutdown, the public suffers from cuts in food inspections and cancer research, lax implementation of air pollution rules, and even the increased possibility of U.S. intelligence agents to flip. And the workers that provide these services, “non-essential” employees, worry about how to pay for their basic needs. While the House has held up funding the government at current levels to delay, defund, and repeal aspects of the Affordable Care Act, members are increasingly moving towards coming together to honor the payments forfeited October 1.

“The human elements to this is that there are parents out there right now who are rightfully really nervous because of this dysfunctional place. They are freaking out about paying rent or paying a mortgage,” said Rep. Trey Radel, a Tea Party Republican from Florida. “I want to do whatever I can to help with that.”