WASHINGTON — Officially, it is a working weekend for Congress, but one of the busiest places in Washington today happened to be the outdoor plaza on the east side of the Capitol where aides waited to whisk lawmakers away moments after the House of Representatives cast its only vote of the day.
On the fifth day of the government shutdown many House members headed for the airport to catch flights home — and some senators didn’t even bother to stick around at all — leaving progress on breaking the budget impasse, which has ground the gears of government to a halt, at a standstill.
The Saturday session, a rarity on Capitol Hill, seemed to be more about optics than anything else with a handful of Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle holding dueling press conferences and giving lengthy speeches on the floors of both chambers.
“We continue to wait for the president to join us in these discussions to work out these differences,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told reporters, touting the fact that the House has “now passed 12 bills that fund critical parts of the federal government.”
On the other end of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reiterated that as far as he and other Democratic leaders are concerned, those bills are going nowhere fast.
“Funding the government bit by bit, that is not the answer. Let them go to work,” Reid said. “No matter how many bites the Republicans take at the apple, there is only one bill that makes sure everything is met — the Senate bill to reopen the government.”
As the bickering, posturing and preening at the capitol continued on the unseasonably warm October day, the House of Representatives did manage to get at least one thing done: Members voted unanimously, 407-0, to pass a bill to ensure the 800,000-plus furloughed federal workers receive back pay once the government reopens. If the Senate decides to take up the bill, the White House signaled Friday that President Obama would sign it.
While expressing his support for the retroactive pay measure, Reid chastised House Republicans for passing it without voting on a clean funding measure to re-open the government.
“It’s really cruel to tell workers they’ll receive back pay once the government opens and then refuse to open the government,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
And he noted that Congress would essentially be giving hundreds of thousands of federal workers a “paid vacation,” telling them to “watch TV. Play chess. Whatever you want to do because we won’t let you work.”
And just after 5 p.m., the Senate adjourned until 2 p.m. Monday afternoon. The House will not meet on Sunday either.
Nevertheless, House Republican leaders say they will stay near the Capitol — just in case.
“We’ll continue to be here this weekend,” Cantor said, “and we’ll continue to wait for any indication from the majority leader in the Senate or the White House that they’re willing to sit down and talk with us so we can relieve the pain on the American people and end this shutdown.”
The next votes in the House aren’t scheduled until 6:30 p.m. on Monday, which will be day seven of the shutdown — a delay that Democrats lamented.
“It’s going to take a lot of loud voices to get the Speaker to hear us because they have shut down,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in a Saturday Senate floor speech. “They have gone home. They’re not even coming back until next Monday.”
ABC’s Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.