The House of Representatives approved a bipartisan bill Saturday to provide back pay to 800,000 furloughed federal employees when the government shutdown ends.
If approved by the Senate, the proposal would limit the economic impact of the shutdown. That's particularly true in Maryland, where tens of thousands of federal workers have been furloughed since agencies closed on Tuesday.
The House voted 407-0 to approve the measure.
"Federal workers didn't cause this shutdown and they shouldn't be punished for it," said Rep. John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat who cosponsored the bill.
Members of Congress representing Maryland and Virginia — both Democrats and Republicans — pushed the proposal aggressively this past week even as Congress remained deadlocked over underlying spending legislation to reopen the government. Both states have a heavy concentration of federal employees.
Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, said that "despite the difficult and unfortunate circumstances that have shut down our government" there is "bipartisan agreement" that "millions of federal employees…will be paid for the duration."
Now the legislation heads to the Senate, where Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, has drafted that chamber's proposal. The bill has 20 Democratic co-sponsors and President Barack Obama has indicated he will sign the bill.
"Federal employees in Maryland and nationwide did not cause this fiscal crisis," Cardin said in a statement. "We need to assure these hardworking public servants that we do value their work and their contributions and that they will get paid."
Roughly two million federal employees have been exempted from furloughs during the shutdown. They were already set to be paid once the budget impasse ends. However, it takes an act of Congress to retroactively pay employees who are furloughed.
Obama has already signed a separate bill to allow service members and some civilian and contract workers who support them to be paid during the shutdown.
The House legislation initially had only a handful of GOP sponsors, all of whom represented Virginia. But bipartisan support for the bill swelled this past week.
Congress has typically approved back pay for furloughed workers after a shutdown, but that outcome was less certain this time. Many Republicans were elected in part on promises to reduce the size of government and the party's proposed budgets have included cuts to employees.
Maryland is home to more than 314,000 federal workers, about one-tenth of the state's workforce. It's not clear exactly how many in the state have been furloughed.
Some GOP senators have voiced concern about the bill and it is unclear how quickly the Senate will take up the measure.
"I think it's way too early to even consider that, but again, we're $7 trillion more in the hole now than we were," during the 1996 shutdown, Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, told the Huffington Post.
Unions have been pressing for the back pay measure for weeks and the issue repeatedly came up at rallies attended by federal workers last week.
"Federal workers keep the nation safe and secure and provide vital services that support the economic security of American families," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "This bill alone, however, will not address the serious consequences of the funding lapse."
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