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5 Oct, 2013 15:10

US House unanimously votes to retroactively pay 800,000 furloughed workers

US House unanimously votes to retroactively pay 800,000 furloughed workers

The Republican-led US House of Representatives unanimously voted to approve a bill which will see 800,000 workers furloughed during the ongoing partial government shutdown paid once the crisis ends.

The 407-0 vote in the House was a rare moment of bipartisanship within the deeply divided lower house of Congress.

The measure will now be sent to the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats. The White House announced that President Barack Obama will sign the measure into law once it passes Congress.  

"This is not their fault and they should not suffer as a result," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said of federal workers. "This bill is the least we should do. Our hard-working public servants should not become collateral damage in the political games and ideological wars that Republicans are waging."

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, said federal workers should not have to worry about paying their bills while the Congress and the White House battle over funding the government.

"They have child care expenses, house payments to make, kids that are in college, and while the president refuses to negotiate, while he's playing politics, they shouldn't worry about whether or not they can make ends meet," Turner said.

In the 1995-96 government shutdowns, furloughed workers were retroactively paid their salaries in full.

Republicans plan to introduce piecemeal budget votes over the weekend which would see symbolic funding granted to additional public services. If approved, the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) and child nutrition and development programs could be reopened.

Democrats are likely to vote down the stopgap measures, however, which they view as part and parcel of the Republican strategy to shift blame for the shutdown away from the GOP, which has been accused of holding the White House ransom over healthcare reforms.

The shutdown ensued after House Republicans failed to come to an agreement with Democrats with regards to passing the federal budget. It was sparked by the GOP’s reluctance to accept President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” which finally went into effect Tuesday morning amid the shutdown. 

Furloughed federal workers protest outside the U.S. Capitol to demand an end to the lockout of federal workers caused by the government shutdown October 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo / Win Mcnamee)

On Saturday, President Obama called on the House to "stop this farce" and end the US government shutdown by unconditionally approving a federal budget.

"Take that vote. Stop this farce. End this shutdown now," Obama said in his weekly radio and video address.

Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned the partial government shutdown could weaken the United States’ global standing.

"If it were prolonged, or repeated, people would begin to question the willingness of the United States to stay the course and its ability to, but that’s not the case and I don’t think it will be the case,” Kerry told journalists at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Indonesia's Bali.

He continued that Congress should think “long and hard” about the message the US was sending to the world when “we can’t get our own act together.”

Kerry called on lawmakers to "end it now, end it today."

President Barack Obama had planned to attend the summit of Asian leaders, but canceled his travel plans to remain Washington and deal with the shutdown, which entered its fifth day on Saturday. Kerry is now heading the US delegation in the talks.

'This isn't some damn game'

Public opinion has placed responsibility for the shutdown at the Republican’s feet, reducing the debate over the government shutdown to allegations and recriminations that both sides are seeking to prolong the crisis for political advantage.

Republicans jumped on off-the-record quotes in the Wall Street Journal which allegedly showed the White House was prepared for a protracted battle.

“… It doesn't really matter to us [how long the shutdown lasts] because what matters is the end result," the paper cites a senior administration official as saying.

"This morning I get out the Wall Street Journal out and it says: 'We don't care how long it lasts because we [the Democrats] are winning'," said House Speaker John Boehner. "This isn't some damn game. All we are asking for is to sit down and have a discussion."

Although it remains unknown if the anonymous quote in the Wall Street Journal reflects on the actual Obama administration position, the White House and Democrats remain firm that they will only negotiate with Republicans after the government is reopened and the $16.7 trillion debt limit is raised. 

Sings indicate that the National Mall is closed both for turf restoration and because of a government shutdown October 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski)