As the fifth day of the federal government shutdown began, members of the House came together in a moment of rare bipartisanship to pass a bill, by a vote of 407 to 0, approving back pay for furloughed government workers.
President Obama has expressed his support for the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid supports the measure, but said Saturday that if furloughed workers are guaranteed back pay, there’s no reason to keep them out of work.
“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, suggesting that House Republicans have authorized a “paid vacation” for furloughed workers.
After the House vote, Republican leaders called on Senate Democrats and the president to extend the same courtesy to other groups of Americans hurt by the shutdown.
“If it’s important to ease the pain for [federal employees], what about the vets?” House Majority Leader Rep. Eric I.Cantor (R-Va.) said. “Do the Democrats not feel it’s important to ease the pain on them?”
“What about the sick children who need access to clinical trials?” Cantor continued.
The House has passed several bills providing funding for the National Institutes of Health and other areas of the federal government that have been financially weakened since the shutdown began Tuesday. The Senate has rejected each bill, insisting on a so-called “clean” funding bill that will reopen all parts of the government.
President Obama cancelled his scheduled trip Thursday to Indonesia for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, citing his need to remain in Washington to help undo the congressional deadlock.
House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called it a “unique opportunity” for both parties to break the impasse.
“If he’s here this weekend, we’re here this weekend. This can all end,” McCarthy said Saturday.
In a separate House measure Saturday, lawmakers voted 400 to 1 in favor of a bill allowing military chaplains the ability to minister on Sunday without breaking a federal law that forbids furloughed government employees from working.
The sole vote against the measure came from Rep. Bill Enyart (D-Ill.), a 35-year veteran of the U.S. armed forces who retired last year as an adjunct general of the Illinois National Guard.
“I am not going to vote for any more bills designed to allow people to hide behind the flag – or the cross,” Enyart said in a statement.
Enyart affirmed his support for U.S. service members, but said that he will not vote for what he called “feel-good bills” that only reverse shutdown implications for small groups of people.
“This is no way to govern,” Enyart said.
It’s unclear if or when the Senate will take up the bill.