Despite my exhortation yesterday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill authorizing back pay for furloughed federal workers.
In my view, this is a big mistake, and a typical unforced error by Republicans.
Less than 24 hours later, with no apparently authority, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called most furloughed civilian DoD workers back to work. The Wall Street Journal says that Hagel claims he can determine almost his entire work force to be essential. But of course most of them are not essential.
Again according to WSJ, "While it doesn't give them leeway to bring everyone back, Mr. Hagel said on Saturday, the law allows the department to end furloughs for everyone who contributes to the 'morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.'"
This is an absolute joke. It would allow the recall of a comedian or masseuse if the DoD had them on staff (and who's to say they don't these days?)
Furthermore, even if a bill authorizing back pay were to become law -- and it is important to know that the Senate has so far refused to take up the bill -- that does not mean the government is suddenly open for business now.
Like it or not, a shutdown has become one of the few bargaining chips, albeit a very dangerous one, that the GOP has against a tyrannical administration and slimy Senate Majority Leader. If the Republicans pass anything that allows Democrats to de facto end a shutdown without there actually being government funding in place, they become even more toothless than they have been over the past couple of years (not always for lack of effort, mind you.)
While the right thing to do would be for the GOP to push back hard on the DoD, demanding that a more rational defition of essential be used, the Republican push for the back-pay bill has neutered them, and will make them look schizophrenic and even more "mean" than the administration and their media pawns have portrayed Boehner and Co. so far.
Harry Reid, for the first time in recent memory, got it right when he said that the GOP has essentially offered furloughed workers a "paid vacation." This is not the way to spend taxpayers' money. It may seem unfair to people who work for the government, but it's about time they have similar risks to the rest of us.
As I mentioned yesterday, particularly with the second-highest ranking member of the House being Eric Cantor (from somewhere near Richmond, VA), this bill is mostly about trying to help Ken Cuccinelli win the upcoming governor's race in Virginia. Recent polls have him slightly behind Clinton crony Terry McAuliffe, who is not fit to run a hot dog stand, much less the Commonwealth of Virginia -- but again the GOP picked an ideologically pure but very weak candidate. But I digress... The Virginia situation has caused the odd positioning of the GOP aiming to pay all furloughed federal workers, of whom there are many in that state, and Harry Reid trying to maximize their pain.
Speaking of maximizing pain, a couple of remarkable stories in recent hours:
It turns out that the federal government is trying to close 1,100 square miles of open ocean to fisherman. According to an unnamed federal park ranger quoted in the Breitbart.com article linked above, “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.” (I can't verify the quote, but given this administration's history such as ending White House tours, barricading the Lincoln Memorial and WWII Memorial, and removing veterans from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, it's more than plausible.)
Chuck Hagel is taking a page out of Barack Obama's manual of lawlessness, but the House GOP opened the book for him by passing an ill-conceived measure giving back-pay to people for not working.
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