Furloughs that could hit 2 million U.S. workers next week would be delayed until Oct. 20 under a continuing resolution the House is expected to approve today.
The resolution has been used in previous years to get around budget deadlocks and deadlines. It cleared the House Appropriations Committee yesterday on a party-line vote. Democrats favor the extension. Republicans, on cue from the White House, voted against it.
President Bush wants to keep pressure on negotiators so that a budget can be approved on time for the fiscal year that begins Monday. The resolution would delay the start of automatic spending cuts for 20 days.
The president has threatened to veto the resolution, which must still go to the Senate. If he does, the question is whether Congress can muster the two-thirds vote necessary for an override. If the resolution fails and the budget deadline isn't met, workers in many agencies will begin furloughs as early as Tuesday.
Most agencies have planned for 22 days of furloughs between Monday and the end of the fiscal year. But some have told employees the furloughs could last for six months if the budget isn't approved and have contingency plans to furlough workers three days per week. Each furlough day would cost federal workers here an estimated $70 million, and mean that much less would be pumped into the local economy by federal rent-payers, parkers, diners and shoppers.
In past years, federal agencies have operated under continuing resolutions for months at a time. But this year things seem to be different because of important political and philosophical differences in the Republican and Democratic budget plans and the fact that congressional elections are just over a month away.
Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) inserted language in the continuing resolution that would bar agencies from firing or furloughing employees because of automatic spending cuts through Oct. 20. They did so because they feel the Office of Management and Budget is pushing agencies to furlough employees to keep the heat on budget negotiators.
For example: Last week several agencies, including the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board, tentatively approved plans that would have allowed employees to work longer hours or six days this week, which is the last one of the current fiscal year. The idea was that because employees are paid every two weeks, the extra hours put in this week would offset any furlough-generated pay cuts next week.
Workers endorsed the plan, and agency managers approved it. But the OMB said it would violate something called the "bona fide needs rule" and couldn't be done. Some officials believe OMB is splitting hairs to keep the furlough pressure on.Furlough Protest
Members of the American Federation of Government Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will have a noontime anti-furlough rally today at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.
Members of Congress who object to the furloughs will be on hand. The two AFL-CIO groups claim to represent 2.1 million federal and local government employees.