WASHINGTON – Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) urged Congress before the holiday break to protect federal workers in the event of a government shutdown, adding that a “united” federal government under Republican leadership is “dangerous to all living creatures.”
“They’ve already been asked to sacrifice in a way no other group in America has been asked to sacrifice, contributing well over $200 billion to deficit reduction,” he said on a conference call Dec. 20 with American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National President David Cox Sr.
Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution before Christmas to keep the government open through Jan. 19.
Connolly said federal employees have dealt with challenges such as a 16-day government shutdown, hiring freezes and pay freezes for more than three years. He criticized the Trump administration for presiding over “huge attrition” for the federal workforce. Connolly argued that the administration is intentionally not filling many vacant spots in federal agencies in order to “shrink” the workforce and “create low morale so productivity falls.”
“We have to resist all of that. It’s a broad assault. The good news is the American people are reacting to this kind of mindless approach to management and mistreatment of federal employees who serve the American people,” Connolly said. “United government under a Republican banner is dangerous to all living creatures and certainly to all federal employees.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) warned that government shutdowns “hurt federal workers and also hurt the American people, businesses and communities and it is costly to the taxpayers and our economy.”
“What I find inexcusable is that in a government shutdown federal workers do not get paid,” he said. “Now, their mortgage payments still have to be made. Their daily expenses for their families have to be incurred.”
Cardin called the passage of the January CR a course of action “really not acceptable to us – we think we should get our work done now.”
Cardin encouraged Congress to pass his bill, the Federal Employees Fair Treatment Act, as a way to protect workers if a budget agreement cannot be reached. The bill would require “federal employees furloughed or required to work during a lapse in appropriations beginning on or after April 28, 2017, to be compensated for the period of the lapse on the earliest date possible after the lapse ends.”
“There’s no assurance that they will be paid back once the government shutdown is over, and that’s why it’s important that we pass the Federal Employees Fair Treatment Act that makes it clear that we are not going to penalize our federal workers because Congress didn’t do their work,” the senator said.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called CRs “an admission of failure and a poor way to run any enterprise.”
CRs were often used to fund the federal government on a temporary basis when President Obama was in office and Democrats controlled the Senate.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), whose district covers parts of Northern Virginia where many federal employees reside, noted that the House has passed full appropriations bills but the Senate has not acted on them.
“I didn’t like a lot of them but at least they were a step forward. It is very frustrating when you have Republicans controlling the White House, the Senate and the House and they still can’t just do the simple things like get a budget bill on time or spending bill on time,” he said.
Beyer said the House version of Cardin’s bill would ensure every federal employee gets “full pay” in the event of a shutdown.
“The last thing we want is a government shutdown,” he said. “We are going to continue to do everything we can to make sure we don’t have a shutdown.”
AFGE National President David Cox Sr. applauded the lawmakers on the conference call for speaking out against the GOP congressional leadership. “I know you are fighting a hard battle,” he said.
Cox said Beyer has reached “across the aisle” and helped Republicans see that federal employees should not be the “scapegoat” for lawmakers failing to pass a budget.
“I get so discouraged when Republicans get on the floor and talk about federal employees as nameless, faceless bureaucrats – when, in fact, the only reason we have the wonderful country we do, the great country we have, is because we have federal employees who are keeping us safe and well-organized and progressing in so many places from the environment to our defense,” Beyer responded. “We need to be grateful and lift them up rather than make them the butt of all of our poor decision-making.”