House approves back pay for furloughed workers (Video)

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The House voted unanimously Saturday to retroactively pay back federal workers who are not receiving a paycheck because of the government shutdown.

Members approved the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act, H.R. 3223, in a 407-0 vote, with 25 members not voting.

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Workers will not be paid until the shutdown — now in its fifth day — ends. About 800,000 workers have been furloughed. 

The vote was a rare showing of bipartisanship in a week filled with fighting and finger-pointing over the shutdown, the first in 17 years. The bill drew praise from the White House this week, and the Senate could pass it as early as today when it reconvenes at noon.

In the debate preceeding the vote, Republicans sought to score points in the broader fight by arguing that Democrats were more interested in ensuring that workers were paid than in opening the government. 

"This week, they said 'no' to opening up our national memorials or opening up our national parks like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but they're saying 'yes' to paying federal workers," said Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.). 

Miller was referring to a series of measures moved by the House this week that have funded specific parts of the government. 

The White House and Democrats have opposed the measures, arguing Republicans should pass a measure to fund the entire government, not just some portions of it. 

"'No' to veterans benefits, but 'yes' to paying federal workers. 'No' to women and babies on food assistance, 'no' to children with cancer treatments, but 'yes' to paying federal workers," Miller said. 

Democrats see the bill as a separate piece of legislation to ensure back pay for federal workers, and tried to separate that issue from their drive to get the House to pass the Senate's continuing spending resolution. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and others said they continue to oppose the GOP's attempt to call up smaller bills, and said the only reason the government has closed is because of the GOP attempt to undermine ObamaCare.

"Today is day five of the shutdown created by the Tea Party extremists who are harming our country by holding our government hostage," he said.

In past shutdowns, federal workers have received back pay, but there were questions about whether this time would be different. 

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"Today, 17 years ago, federal workers were given back pay after Newt Gingrich's record 21-day shutdown in 1995 an 1996," said Cummings. "It was a fair thing to do then, and it is a fair thing to do now.

The vote can also be seen as a defensive move by Republican leaders, who have come under pressure from some of their own members for their strategy in the fight. Many in the GOP conference, such as Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), have government workers in their districts. 

Republicans on Saturday said federal workers should be held harmless on a shutdown that has resulted from the inability of Republicans and Democrats to agree on a 2014 spending plan.

"This is a bipartisan bill, and I hope every member in this House will be happy to support it," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).

The bill will not cure all of the bad blood between the two parties over the shutdown. There is still no agreement in sight that might allow the government to reopen — Republicans still insist on their broad funding resolution that undermines ObamaCare, and Democrats continue to call for a "clean" spending bill.

The House is expected to spend next week passing more of these smaller spending bills. Bills that could come up in the coming days include proposals to fund intelligence activities, the Food and Drug Administration, border security, and education.

So far, the Senate has ignored all of these, and has refused to even call up a vote on any of the GOP's "mini" spending proposals.

Aside from holding broad debate, the Senate has done very little in the way of legislative over the past week, and drew GOP criticism on Friday for quickly passing a resolution naming next week "National Chess Week."

That track record led Rogers to quip that he's excited the Senate appears ready to at least take up the retroactive pay bill.

"The Senate has plans to take up this bill," he said. "Stop the presses: the Senate's going to take up a bill, even if they won't consider most of our other bills."

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