Shutdown lowdown: House OKs paid vacation for furloughed Feds

Government contractors lay off thousands No guarantees for them. Photo: AP/ J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON, October 3, 2013 – As the budget battle and the Federal government shutdown are set to continue this week, the House has just passed a measure that essentially grants retroactive and continuing paid vacation to Federal workers furloughed as a result of the current budget impasse. According to the Washington Times, “The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Virginia Reps. James P. Moran, a Democrat, and Frank Wolf, a Republican, cleared without opposition on a 407-0 vote, marking a major bipartisan breakthrough.” 

In a rare nod of bipartisan agreement, reports indicate that the Senate appears likely to approve the House measure sometime early in the week and send it to the White House, where the administration has apparently signaled the President’s willingness to sign it. 

According to Washington Times Communities columnist Bill Kelly elsewhere on this site, this Congressional action—the first movement of any kind in this continuing crisis—assures that “Once [the bill is] passed by the Senate, 800,000 federal workers will receive billions of dollars in ‘free money’ courtesy of U.S. taxpayers without lifting a federal finger. The back pay is the equivalent of a taxpayer-funded paid vacation.” 

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, walks to House chamber Saturday October 5, 2013 as solons vote to pay furloughed Federal workers retroactively. (AP, J. Scott Applewhite)

The number of paid vacationers may be down to about 400,000 or so as early as Tuesday, however. In a move that may or may not be related, Fox reports that “The Pentagon on Sunday called back to work most of its roughly 400,000 civilian employees, based on administration lawyers’ legal interpretation of the recent government slimdown,” apparently based on a legal interpretation of Federal laws by DoD legal advisors to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. 

Meanwhile, back in the private sector, several sources have reported that many firms that contract to the Federal government are furloughing increasing numbers of their own employees. Lockheed Martin has announced it will start laying off 3,000 employees nationwide on Monday, October 7, and United Technologies Corp. will begin laying off at least 2,000 of its employees on Monday as well. 

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Since many Federal facilities where these employees work are shuttered for the duration, these contractors have effectively been locked out. It seems highly unlikely that these private-sector employees will get the kind of favorable treatment that Congress is eager to accord to Federal employees, however. 

All this comes on the heels of a chaotic Washington week where the Federal shutdown commenced on October 1 as both houses of Congress dug in for a protracted budget battle that may serve as a prequel for an even more acrimonious and dangerous battle over raising the Federal budget ceiling later this month. 

Also roiling the waters over the past week has been the effective breakdown of the vaunted Obamacare online enrollment system, at least for individuals resident in those states that chose to have the Federal government administer that unpopular program for them. The taxpayer-funded system—constructed to promote and enroll individuals in the new national system of socialized medicine set in motion by the Affordable Care Act—has itself been a key part of the budget battle waged between the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate. 

Obamacare’s system wide registration breakdown, in conjunction with the bipartisan Congressional vote approving special Obamacare treatment for members and staffers is now coalescing with Monday’s likely approval of the extended Federal worker vacation package to paint an extraordinarily unflattering picture of an elite government class that no longer much cares how the rest of the country perceives them. 

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Bill Kelly cites a recent Facebook entry that seems to typify a growing backlash against the high-handed treatment of taxpayers by the Federal government and Congress alike as evidenced by Monday’s likely Senate passage of the House Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act in some form: 

“‘NO! No private business pays employees NOT to work during furloughs or shutdowns. Most companies even send employees home early, off the clock, if the day’s work is done early, too,’ Mike Burnson wrote.” 

Commentators to Kelly’s column thus far include individuals alleging to be furloughed Federal employees who are outraged at any use of the “vacation” analogy to describe the likely restoration of Federal pay without the need to work for it. Such a reaction is understandable, of course.

No one appreciates a temporary layoff for any reason. The fact remains, however, that when such layoffs occur in the private sector, lost pay is lost forever. Yet in the recent history of Federal government shutdowns and resulting government employee furloughs, lost pay has always been restored for Federal employees, not only making these employees whole in terms of their family budgets, but also, in effect, providing them with additional, free, taxpayer-supported paid vacation.

Private sector employees never enjoy the luxury of this kind of backstop, and the resentment continues to build, although it is little noted or commented upon by an astonishingly Administration-compliant media.

It’s too early in this situation to see whether Monday’s markets will take a jaundiced eye toward this current budget move, or view it more positively as the first move toward some kind of evolving budget/debt ceiling compromise. But if headlines don’t start improving this week, last week’s negative market action, exacerbated by President Obama’s ill-timed threatening remarks, could prove but a prelude to a very nasty October for investors. And a plague on both Congressional Houses.


Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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