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Congress Passes Bill Amid Shutdown to Provide Back Pay to Federal Workers

Congress passed a bipartisan bill on Friday to provide back pay to federal employees who were furloughed or who had to work without pay during the ongoing government shutdown.

The partial government shutdown is nearing its third week since it started on December 22.

The shutdown began with a dispute over border security funding and still shows little signs of stopping.

The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019 would ensure that government workers [1] impacted by it and by any future shutdowns can at least get back pay.

The Senate first passed the bill with a bipartisan voice vote late Thursday. The House took up the legislation the next morning before passing it 411 to 7.

The bill was able to gain bipartisan support, but the dispute that led to the shutdown shows little sign of letting up. President Donald Trump has hinted that he would sign the bill.

Trump has been fighting to secure $5.7 billion to fund a security wall along the southern border.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have refused to provide any funding for the wall. Schumer has only offered to provide $1.3 billion that can’t go toward the border wall itself.

Related: Trump Walks Out of Gov’t Shutdown Meeting with Dems [2]

“Here we are today on the first day federal employees will miss their paycheck,” Pelosi said before the vote. “Congress is saying and guaranteeing that workers will be paid, not just for this shutdown — but God forbid if we have any future ones, that their pay will be guaranteed. I support the bill and [am] glad it has strong bipartisan support.”

Trump and congressional leaders from both parties have continued discussions to overcome the stalemate. But despite these regular meetings and efforts, the two sides have been unable to overcome the impasse. The meetings have typically been contentious; they’ve been followed by press conferences in which both sides blame the other for not negotiating in good faith.

“This bill is a promise to our dedicated civil servants,” Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) said before the vote on Friday, “both those forced to the sidelines and those still at work without pay. When House Democrats stop using federal employees’ livelihoods as a political football to fund the government, including border security, paychecks will be issued. Mr. Speaker, to my colleagues across the aisle, we get it, you don’t like the president, you made your point. It’s now time to stop messing around.”

Federal workers impacted by past government shutdowns typically have been paid when the government reopened. Those having to work without compensation are guaranteed their back pay once a shutdown concludes. Lawmakers usually pass legislation when a shutdown occurs, and that legislation  also provides back pay to furloughed workers.

Related: House Dems Unveil Plan to End Gov’t Shutdown Without Border Wall Funding [3]

Trump has repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment to funding the border wall [4] since the shutdown began.

He stressed the importance of having a border wall [5] during his first Oval Office address this past Tuesday night. He has made similar arguments made during press conferences and even during his trip to see the southern border firsthand on Thursday.

House Democrats have made a few attempts of their own to end the shutdown. They passed two bills intended to fund most [6] of the government while leaving room to debate border security. They’re also likely to pass the last of four bills [7] to end the shutdown. But without border wall funding, these measures are unlikely to go anywhere unless the president relents.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he wouldn’t bring up any bills the president wouldn’t sign. Pelosi has argued that Senate Republicans should support the plan because it’s based on legislation they approved. But the president has since made clear he won’t sign anything that doesn’t include border wall funding including short-term bills.

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