Maryland Democrats spearhead drive for back federal worker pay

Legislation introduced today would pay employees sent home because of the government shutdown. "Obamacare" isn't affected by the crisis.

closing Lincoln Memorial

A National Park Service employee places a sign barring visitors to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington yesterday.

Photo by: Reuters

The Maryland Democratic delegation took the lead in introducing legislation that would guarantee that federal workers who are furloughed because of the government shutdown would receive their full pay.

Introduced today in both the Senate and House, the “Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act” would provide pay retroactively to employees furloughed in the government shutdown that started yesterday when a budget deal was not reached in Congress.

“Hardworking federal employees did not cause our fiscal crises, nor did they contribute to the legislative gridlock, but once again they are being asked to pay the heaviest price toward a resolution,” Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin said today, noting that federal workers have “endured a three-year pay freeze and ‘contributed’ over $90 billion to deficit reduction before sequestration actually cut their salaries.”

So far, about 800,000 of 2.8 million civilian employees have been furloughed by the ideological struggle between House Republicans and President Barack Obama.

Some agencies – such as the National Park Service, Veterans Administration and Environmental Protection Agency – immediately sent home virtually all of their employees. About half of all Pentagon employees are expected to be furloughed.

Other agencies have retained a large portion of their staff either because the employees are deemed essential for the protection of life and property or the agency still has funds from last year’s budget.

In the former category are air traffic controllers, prison guards, food inspectors and border patrol agents. The State Department and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have enough money left in their accounts to stay open for at least a few more days.

Agencies and programs with their own funding streams, such as the U.S. Postal Service and Social Security, will also remain open.

Many Marylanders Impacted

In Maryland, the furlough could affect as many as 140,000 federal employees and contractors, Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, said today. Among them: his own and other Congressional staffs.

Following the last federal shutdown 17 years ago, furloughed workers received back pay. But today the political dynamics are fluid and opposition to any back pay within Republican ranks is strong for now.

Maryland’s lone Republican congressman, Rep. Andy Harris, said the GOP will continue to try to restore temporary funding to parts of the government that “were inappropriately shut down by the President,” while also trying to delay portions of “Obamacare.”

Ironically, the health-care reform legislation, which is at the heart of the political warfare, won’t be stopped by the shutdown unless Democrats agree to delay implementation of the law, which went into effect yesterday.

“Obamacare” Enrollment Begins

Because Obamacare has its own guaranteed funding stream, it will continue to enroll people for insurance regardless of the budgetary actions – or inactions – of Congress. Yesterday, the roll out of the program began with a six-month enrollment period for 2014 coverage.

Both the Maryland and federal computer systems used to run the new health-insurance marketplaces experienced various teething problems. Slow website navigation – and stronger than expected consumer demand – caused long delays for many online users.

The Obama administration has cited 900 groups, from the American Nurses Association to local pharmacies and advocacy groups, that are helping people navigate through the sign-up process to obtain insurance.

Here is one non-profit group serving the greater Baltimore area.

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