Push to include contractor back pay in funding deal hits GOP roadblock

An effort to include back pay for contractors in the government funding deal is running into GOP opposition.
 
Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act MORE (D-N.Y.) said Democrats were trying to get the 17 conferees to approve adding back pay stemming from the longest shutdown in U.S. history into the legislative text of the government funding agreement.
 
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"Thousands of federal contractors have not been reimbursed from the 35-day shutdown. This issue is still hanging in the balance," Schumer said. "No one should stand in the way of that. It's just not fair to them. They were hostages."
 
 
A spokesman for McConnell directed questions about the issue to the Office of Management and Budget.
 
A source familiar with the legislation said the administrative cost for implementing the new back pay requirements would be almost as high as the pay out to contractors impacted by the partial government shutdown.
 
 
Democrats and outside groups expressed serious skepticism about the notion that implementing back pay for impacted contractors could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, pushing back on the claim.

Alan Chvotkin, the executive Vice President for the Professional Services Council, said implementing the legislation as part of the forthcoming omnibus wouldn't include a "significant administrative cost," adding that it "just can't be anywhere near that."

A Democratic aide expressed skepticism about the high price tag because the legislation, which was also introduced a stand-alone bill by Sen. Tina SmithTina Flint SmithWhat if scientists, not politicians, called the shots on climate policy GOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech MORE (D-Minn.), would build on an administrative process that already exists for processing other claims from contractors.
  
Congressional staffers are frantically trying to finalize the funding legislation. The measure is expected to be released as soon as Wednesday night.
 
Top Republicans on the bicameral conference committee appeared cool to making last-minute additions to the deal after an agreement "in principle" was announced Monday evening.
 
Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending GOP senator warns Trump, Mulvaney against 'draconian' budget cuts MORE (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said back pay for federal contractors would constitute an "add on" to the agreement and that it would be a matter for leadership, including McConnell and Schumer, to decide.
 
"That was not initially part of our deal," Shelby said. "I personally would rather keep it narrow in scope."
 

"No, it is not in this bill," she said. "I don’t believe it’s appropriate. It’ll be in an authorization.”

When asked about Schumer pushing the issue on the Senate floor, she replied, “Well, he’s a little late.”

The Democratic aide countered that talks have been ongoing for weeks about how to get back pay for impacted federal contractors included in the funding package.

The aide added that they had spoken to the White House two weeks ago and that, while OMB had questions, none of them were viewed as potentially fatal to the bill or implied that it was a deal breaker. The aide added that they had not gotten suggested changes to the back pay legislation from OMB.
 
Though Congress and Trump approved back pay for the 800,000 federal employees impacted by recent partial government shutdown, government contractors were not included in the agreement.
 
Chvotkin acknowledged that the legislation could be moved separately from the shutdown bill, but said talks were currently focused on getting it included in the funding deal and "riding the horse that's galloping down the track."
 
Back pay for federal contractors is one of a handful of issues that lawmakers are still haggling over. McConnell said on the Senate floor that Democrats are objecting to a "modest" extension of the Violence Against Women Act.
 
Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race MORE (R-W.Va.) said Wednesday that lawmakers were still talking about the type of physical barriers that could be used, as well as their location along the U.S.-Mexico border. 
 
— Niv Elis contributed to this report, which was updated at 6:09 p.m.