House passes pay for the 800,000 furloughed workers

WASHINGTON — The fifth day of the partial shutdown of the U.S. government brought no signs of a breakthrough as House lawmakers passed a bill that would eventually reimburse furloughed federal workers for lost pay.

The measure, which passed 407-0 Saturday, was part of an effort to “ease the pain” of the first shutdown since 1996, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. He and fellow Republican leaders called on President Barack Obama and Democrats in the Senate to negotiate on a spending deal.

“He is here this weekend, we are here this weekend,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 Republican in the House, told reporters Saturdday. “This can all end.”

The shutdown has furloughed about 800,000 federal employees and is becoming a prolonged deadlock that is merging with the debate over raising the U.S. debt ceiling. Unlike past fiscal feuds, this dispute is more about Obama’s Affordable Care Act and less about the amount of spending.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who on the Senate floor Saturday continued to blame Republicans for the effects of the government shutdown, said Friday he would determine how to handle the House retroactive pay measure when the Senate receives it. The Senate convened at noon Satirday with no votes scheduled.

Reid, D-Nev., likened the House pay plan to an “Alice in Wonderland” trick, saying Republicans had spent the past two years seeking to undermine federal employees and their benefits.

“It’s really cruel to tell workers they’ll get their back pay once the government opens and then refuse to open the government,” Reid said, calling on the House to pass a spending bill without conditions.

The U.S. budget deficit in June was 4.3 percent of gross domestic product, down from 10.1 percent in February 2010 and the narrowest since November 2008, when Obama was elected to his first term, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the Treasury Department and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Republicans’ most recent proposal for opening the government would postpone for one year the mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance, mirroring the delay the administration granted to employers. It also would remove employer contributions toward health insurance for members of Congress, their staffs and political appointees.

“When we have a crisis like we’re in the middle of this week,the American people expect their leaders to sit down and try to resolve their differences,” House Speaker John Boehner said Friday, insisting that Democrats make concessions on the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Obama repeated his position Friday that Boehner, R-Ohio, should buck the majority of House Republicans and vote on a short-term spending bill without policy conditions.

“If Speaker Boehner will simply allow a vote to take place, we can end this shutdown,” Obama said during a lunchtime walk to a sandwich shop near the White House. “And a whole bunch of families not just here in Washington but all across the country will have the certainty that paychecks will be coming, that they’ll be able to make their mortgage, that they’ll be able to pay their expenses and they’ll be able to look after their families.”

The effects of the shutdown continued to ripple through the government and the country.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics didn’t release Friday’s monthly report on unemployment, repeating what it did in the 1996 shutdown. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement that the government wouldn’t be able to participate in next week’s second round of negotiations on the Trans- Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in Brussels.

Lockheed Martin Corp., the largest U.S. defense contractor, said it will furlough about 3,000 employees on Oct. 7 because of the effects of the shutdown, including the inability of workers to get to their jobs in shuttered government facilities and a halt to government inspections.

Other government services continued, including Social Security benefits, mail delivery and air traffic control.

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said Boehner told members Friday that he had no intention of “rolling over” to Democrats’ demands for spending and debt- limit bills without policy conditions. He said his constituents aren’t concerned about the shutdown.

“All they want to talk about was the drag of Obamacare,” Fleming told reporters. “I don’t think many of my constituents even know that there is a shutdown, or even care.”

House Democrats will attempt to use a procedural move known as a discharge petition to force a vote on a bill to end the shutdown without policy conditions.

The move is a long shot. It wouldn’t result in a vote until Oct. 14 and would require Republicans who support the policy to break with Boehner in ways they haven’t on other procedural matters.

House Republicans continued their strategy of passing bills to fund parts of the government, such as national parks, weather monitoring and infant nutrition.

Republicans’ best hope was to keep sending piecemeal bills and wait for public sentiment to change, said Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“The public is going to finally say to the president, ‘Look, at least sit down and talk,’” he said.

The Obama administration has threatened to veto the separate spending measures. Giving in now would only embolden Republicans to seek more concessions, said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

“The hope is maybe once the tea party has realized it’s not getting its way on shutting down the government, that they won’t try the same stunt on the debt ceiling,” Schumer said. “If they do, by the way, the heat on them will be much, much greater than it is now.”

The U.S. will run out of borrowing authority on Oct. 17 and will have $30 billion in cash after that. The country would be unable to pay all its bills, including benefits, salaries and interest, sometime between Oct. 22 and Oct. 31, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Boehner said he doesn’t want the U.S. to default on its debt. He also said he will reject Obama’s call for a debt-limit increase free of policy conditions.

“If we’re going to raise the amount of money we can borrow, we ought to do something about our spending problem and the lack of economic growth in our country,” he said.

Last month, Boehner outlined a debt-limit strategy that included lighter regulations, cuts in entitlement programs and approval of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline.

The outline added means-testing in Medicare, changing malpractice law and eliminating social services block grants. Also being considered was a proposal to eliminate a requirement that gives regulators authority to seize and dismantle financial firms if their failure could damage the stability of the U.S. financial system.

— With assistance from Victoria Stilwell, Terry Atlas, Ian Katz, Kasia Klimasinska, Lisa Lerer, Margaret Talev, Heidi Przybyla, Derek Wallbank, Phil Mattingly, Jonathan D. Salant and Richard Rubin in Washington and Andreea Papuc in Hong Kong.

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