Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives agreed on Saturday to retroactively pay 800,000 furloughed federal employees once the government reopens, but there was no end in sight to the shutdown that was in its fifth day.
The House of Representatives passed the bill unanimously and it is
expected to clear the Senate and be signed by President Barack Obama. It
was a rare moment of cooperation in the House as the two parties were
entrenched in their positions on the shutdown.
The standoff, which began at the start of the new fiscal year on
Tuesday and shuttered all but essential government operations, is the
latest in a series of budget fights between Obama and Republicans.
In the past, Republicans have insisted on spending cuts as the price
for budget deals or lifting of the government debt limit. Their current
stand is aimed at derailing the president's landmark healthcare reform
law to expand insurance to millions without coverage.
Republicans argue that the law is a massive government intrusion
into private medicine that will cause insurance premiums to skyrocket,
put people out of work and eventually lead to socialized medicine. They
have refused to pass a funding bill without attaching measures that
would undercut the law, known as Obamacare.
Obama and his fellow Democrats vow that they will make no such
concessions on the funding bill or on raising the debt ceiling, which
must be done by October 17 to avoid default.
Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press released on
Saturday that he does not expect to have to take any unusual steps to
prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt because he
believes Congress will raise the debt ceiling.
"I don't expect to get there," Obama said. "There were at least some
quotes yesterday that Speaker Boehner is willing to make sure that we
don't default," he said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner, a
"And I'm pretty willing to bet that there are enough votes in the
House of Representatives right now to make sure that the United States
doesn't end up being a deadbeat," Obama said.
In his radio address on Saturday, Obama said the government shutdown
was having a "heartbreaking" impact on ordinary Americans, and renewed
his call on Republicans in Congress to "stop the farce" and pass a
funding bill without conditions.
While the retroactive pay bill enjoys bipartisan support, it does
not end the uncertainty that federal workers face about when the
government will reopen and they will be paid.
"These employees, who provide vital services to the American people,
will have a little peace of mind," with passage of this bill, said
Joseph Beaudoin, President of the National Active and Retired Federal
Democratic leaders in the House said on Friday they were working on a
maneuver that, if successful, would force a vote on legislation to
fully reopen the government.
The plan involves a rarely used "discharge petition" that would
dislodge an existing bill from a committee and send it to the House
floor if a simple majority of lawmakers in the chamber sign the
Such a move would take a week or so to clear procedural hurdles in
the House, according to Representative George Miller, a Democrat. A
House vote might not come until at least October 14, which is a federal
holiday, Miller said.
In the meantime, the shutdown is affecting the economy across the
country, from companies that deal with government contracts to national
parks that normally generate millions of dollars a day in tourism
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, sent a letter to Obama on
Friday urging him to either back a bill to reopen national parks such
as the Grand Canyon, or at least allow states to use state and private
funding to reopen them.
Facing public anger over the government shutdown, House Republicans
have adopted a strategy of voting piecemeal to fund some popular federal
agencies - like the Veterans Administration, the National Park Service
and the National Institutes of Health - that are partially closed.
Democrats have rejected that, arguing that Congress has a duty to pass a bill funding the entire government.
Republicans are also seeking concessions in exchange for raising the
nation's $16.7 trillion debt limit, which is due to be reached October
17. If the borrowing cap is not increased, the United States will go
into default, with what officials and economists say would be seriously
damaging consequences for the U.S. and global economies.
Boehner tried on Friday to squelch reports that he would ease the
way to a debt ceiling increase, stressing that House Republicans would
continue to insist on budget cuts as a condition of raising the
Republicans blame the White House for the fiscal deadlock, saying the president is stubbornly refusing to compromise.
"Republicans are eager to end the shutdown and move ahead with the
fiscal and economic reforms that our country so urgently needs," Senator
John Cornyn said in the Republican weekly address on Saturday. "But
we're never going to make real progress without greater cooperation from
our friends across the aisle."
"The Democrats have calculated that by prolonging the shutdown, and
maximizing the pain, they can bully Republicans into doing whatever
President Obama and Majority Leader (Harry) Reid want them to do,"
The president and Democratic leaders in Congress have said that they
are open to bartering over budget issues, but not under the threat of a
shutdown, and that raising the debt limit - and avoiding default - is
The president canceled a week-long trip to Asia next week to deal with the crisis.