Democrats call for contractors to get paid after shutdown

The Washington skyline is seen on day 19 of a partial government shutdown on the morning after President Donald Trump used a prime-time TV address from the Oval Office to urge congressional Democrats to relent on their opposition to his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. From left are the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Thursday called on the Trump Administration to work with federal contractors so that their employees can get back pay when the partial government shutdown ends.

While federal workers generally receive back pay after a shutdown, contractors do not. The Senate on a voice vote Thursday night approved legislation to provide back pay for federal workers furloughed during this shutdown. President Trump has said he will sign the bill.

The request was made as the shutdown led to dramatic debate in the Senate, where Democrats tried unsuccessfully to bring about votes on House-passed legislation that would reopen the government.

Senate legislation that’s being drafted calls for back pay to compensate low- and middle-income contractor employees with they wages they’re losing during the shutdown. It’s similar to a bill introduced this week sponsored by in the House by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton called the Low-Wage Federal Contractor Employee Back Pay Act.

“Contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause,” 34 Democratic senators said in a letter sent to the Office of Management and Budget.

“Low-wage service contract workers perform jobs that are absolutely vital to the government, such as food service, security and custodial work,” the letter stated. “Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues.”

Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, were among those to sign the letter sent to OMB.

Cardin and Van Hollen led an effort on the Senate floor on Thursday to try to get votes on legislation passed in the House that would reopen the government.

“We should not be accomplices to the shutdown the president said he would be proud of,” Van Hollen said. “We should say today we’re proud to cast our first vote, as the House did, to reopen the federal government and get people back to work.”

Cardin also urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on a package of six spending bills the House passed shortly after Democrats regained control this month. He said the 800,000 federal workers who are either working without pay or who are furloughed deserve better.

“It’s like AT&T, Apple, Lockheed Martin, Google and Exxon-Mobile laying off their entire workforce at one time,” Cardin said.

But McConnell called it a “political stunt” and said it would be useless to allow a vote that wouldn’t get Trump’s signature. The GOP lawmaker said simply, “This would not produce a result.”

Senate Democrats have been holding up other legislation, arguing that reopening the government should be their first order of business. The Senate on Thursday again fell short of the 60 votes needed to proceed on legislation related to the Middle East, The vote was 53-43.

McConnell said Democrats were compounding the problem of the government shutdown by effectively causing a second shutdown of proceedings in the Senate.

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Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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