From Associated Press and Air Force News Service
Some civilian workers at Vance Air Force Base were receiving word they will be back at work this week, as the nation's defense secretary said Saturday most Department of Defense civilians placed on emergency furlough during the government shutdown will be asked to return to work beginning next week.
In a written statement explaining his action, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the Justice Department advised the Pay Our Military Act — passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama shortly before the partial government shutdown began Tuesday — does not permit a blanket recall of all Pentagon civilians. But government attorneys concluded the law does allow the Pentagon to eliminate furloughs for “employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.”
“Consequently, I am now directing the Military Departments and other DOD components to move expeditiously to identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories. I expect us to be able to significantly reduce — but not eliminate — civilian furloughs under this process. Employees can expect to hear more information from their managers starting this weekend,” Hagel announced Saturday.
Some of those workers at Vance on Saturday were hearing that information, including word the base Commissary, closed since Wednesday, will open again Tuesday, as it normally is closed Monday, but the full impact of the 100 civilian workers furloughed at Vance was not immediately known Saturday night.
Hale said that even with this relief, the effect of the furloughs has been severe.
“We’ve seriously harmed civilian morale; this (recall) will be a start back,” he said.
Hale said he hoped a “substantial number” could be returned to work on Monday, but that an exact timetable is not available.
Hagel had made clear earlier in the past week that Pentagon lawyers were trying to determine ways for some of the Defense Department's furloughed civilians to get back to work.
“This has been a very disruptive year for our people — including active duty, National Guard and reserve personnel, and DOD civilians and contractors,” Hagel said. “Many important activities remain curtailed while the shutdown goes on. Civilians under furlough face the uncertainty of not knowing when they will next receive a paycheck. I strongly support efforts in Congress to enact legislation to retroactively compensate all furloughed employees. And I will continue to urge Congress to fulfill its basic responsibilities to pass a budget and restore full funding for the Department of Defense and the rest of the government.”
On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats continued to bicker and to ponder the chasm between their warring parties, each of which seems convinced it’s on the winning side morally and politically. House Speaker John Boehner, asked Saturday whether Congress was any closer to resolving the impasse, replied: “No.” Aides say he has not figured out how to end the gridlock.
Even the top bipartisan achievement of the shutdown’s fifth day — agreeing to pay furloughed federal employees for the work days they are missing — was a thin victory. Congress made the same deal after the mid-1990s shutdowns, and Saturday’s 407-0 vote was widely expected.
Still, it triggered the sort of derisive quarreling that has prevented Congress from resolving the larger funding and debt dilemmas.
“Of all the bizarre moments” involved in the debate, said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, “this may be the most bizarre: that we will pay people not to work.” He called it “the new tea party sense of fiscal responsibility.”
House Republicans said they want to ease the pain from the partial shutdown and many complained in recent days the Obama administration was slow to bring back the military’s civilian workers, even though the Pay Our Military Act allowed it.
Democrats said Congress should fully re-open the government and let employees work for the pay they’re going to receive.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Saturday the Democratic-controlled Senate will approve retroactive pay for furloughed workers, although he didn’t specify when.
The politics of the shutdown have merged with partisan wrangling over the graver issue of raising the federal debt limit by Oct. 17. If that doesn’t happen, the White House says, the government will be unable to pay all its bills, including interest on debt. Economists say a U.S. default would stun world markets and likely send this nation, and possibly others, into recession.
Boehner, R-Ohio, and Obama say they abhor the idea of a default. But they and their respective parties have not budged from positions that bar a solution.
Obama says he will not negotiate tax-and-spending issues if they are linked to a debt-ceiling hike. Boehner and his GOP allies say they will not raise the ceiling unless Democrats agree to deep spending cuts.
Many House Republicans also demand curbs to Obama’s signature health care law as a condition of reopening the government. The president and his allies call the demand absurd.