WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon said yesterday it would recall most of the roughly 400,000 civilian Defense Department employees sent home during the government shutdown, in a move that could greatly lessen the impact of the shutdown on America’s armed forces.
The exact number to be recalled remained uncertain. Civilian Pentagon employees comprise about half the 800,000 federal employees currently furloughed.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said a legal review of the “Pay Our Military Act,” signed by President Barack Obama on Monday on the eve of the shutdown, would allow him to bring a still unspecified number of civilians back to work next week.
The announcement came as Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives agreed to pay all furloughed employees retroactively once the government reopens. It was a rare moment of cooperation in the House as the two parties were entrenched in their positions on the shutdown. The US Senate is expected to go along.
But the actions did not solve the basic problem – the failure of Democrats and Republicans to settle their political differences and agree on a bill to fund and reopen the government.
The House measure prompted Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter of New York to suggest that since the employees were going to get their salaries anyway, “why don’t we just let them come back to work?”
“This whole thing is crazy,” she said.
Outside the Capitol where Congress was meeting yesterday, two small children sat at the foot of the stairs holding placards reading: End the shutdown” and “Stop acting like children.”
As they moved into the second week of a shutdown, members appeared no closer to finding a way to end it, or to head off a possible default by the government on Oct. 17, the deadline for Congress to increase the government’s authority to borrow money.
Talk of using broader budget deals to bring the standoff to an end has picked up in recent days, but without any visible result.
Democrats say bills to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling could be resolved quickly if House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner permitted votes on simple, no-strings-attached measures.
But most House Republicans want strings attached, including one aimed at crippling Obama’s signature healthcare law, popularly known as Obamacare, and Boehner has so far refused to promise votes on either, in part because he could face a revolt that might cost him his job.