WASHINGTON -- As the Department of Homeland Security braces for the possibility of a shutdown at the end of the week, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin introduced legislation on Tuesday that would provide retroactive pay for any workers furloughed because of a lapse in funding.
The department, which includes the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, among others, will run out of money at midnight Friday unless lawmakers find a way to break an impasse over immigration policy that has stymied funding legislation.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that some 30,000 department employees would be furloughed and another roughly 200,000 "essential" employees, including TSA officers would continue to work despite no guarantee of being paid.
Congress has authorized retroactive pay following past shutdowns, including the one in 2013.
"Hardworking federal employees, who keep our homeland safe from harm every day, did not cause our fiscal crises nor did they contribute to the legislative gridlock over immigration reform, but once again they are being put in the crossfire between Congress and the executive branch," Cardin, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Maryland, though it has a high concentration of federal employees overall, has a relatively small number of Homeland Security workers. According to the Office of Personnel Management, about 3,500 people work for the department in the state, including many at the port of Baltimore and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. It's not clear how many of those employees would be considered essential.
Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is a cosponsor of the bill, along with about a dozen other Democrats.
If a shutdown occurred, retroactive pay language would likely be attached to whatever appropriations bill ultimately reopens the department.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky appeared to be offering his party a way out of the political logjam by setting up votes on a DHS funding bill and on a separate measure to roll back President Barack Obama's controversial executive actions on immigration -- the source of the conflict over department funding.
It's not yet clear whether House Republicans will accept that plan. In the meantime, the union representing many of the employees said Tuesday that they support Cardin's bill.
"The large majority of Customs and Border Protection employees represented by NTEU will be required to work without pay until a shutdown ends," said Colleen M. Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "That is outrageous treatment for the brave employees we entrust with keeping our country safe and we join with Senator Cardin to try to avoid it."