WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. government shutdown saga continues on Capitol Hill today, but for the 800,000 federal workers sent home without pay there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Today, the House of Representatives passed legislation that, if cleared by the Senate, would assure those employees would receive their back pay when the government reopens.
The “Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act” passed with a rare, unanimous vote and is poised to pass through the upper chamber unhindered.
This morning the bill’s sponsor, Rep. James Moran, D-Va., said on the House floor that the bill was “the right thing to do.”
“The issue is fairness,” he said. “It’s just wrong for hundreds of thousands of federal employees not to know whether they’er going to be able to make their mortgage payment. Not to know whether they’re going to be able to provide for their families. Many of them live from paycheck to paycheck and they’re absolutely committed to paying their bills when they become do.”
He was echoed by colleagues across the aisle, including Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky.
“As we wait for the Senate to come to the negotiating table on shutting the shutdown down, our federal workforce should not wait to find out whether or not they’ll be paid. This bill will provide backpay for those workers who have been furloughed in a fair, full, and timely manner,” Rogers said, although like others in his party he expressed disappointment the Senate would not take up other piecemeal funding bills passed by the House this week.
Every employee and contractor deemed unessential to the everyday functioning of the government was sent home on Tuesday when Democrats and Republicans failed to come to agreement on how to fund the federal government. The workers range from scientists and engineers at NASA to maintenance workers, garbage handlers, and everything in between. The furlough effects Americans at agencies in every state of the union.
The bill includes military employees, although active service members were already covered by separate legislation passed Monday.
Although the bill is expected to clear the Senate’s democratic majority without incident, that party and the White House have opposed a myriad of piecemeal efforts by the GOP to fund individual agencies and programs. For example on Friday the House passed legislation that would fund FEMA but the effort will die in the Senate.
Today’s legislation is the only such measure the White House has publicly stated would not be subject to a presidential veto. President Obama and his party favor a complete reopening of the government, rather than picking certain programs and not others.
Regardless of today’s seemingly bipartisan victory, workers still won’t see their pay until the shutdown is lifted. Although Capitol Hill whispers of a “grand bargain” and other schemes persist there is no tangible end in sight. Most members of the House left Washington after passage for the remainder of the weekend.
ABC News’ Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.