updated 4/8/2011 8:39:00 AM ET 2011-04-08T12:39:00

Last time there was a government shutdown, furloughed federal workers were able to recover their lost pay. They may not be so lucky this time.

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

Congress would have to decide whether an estimated 800,000 government employees could recoup back wages if they are forced to stay out of work. When workers were sidelined during the most recent partial shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, Congress quickly voted to make them whole.

But that was during flush economic times and before Tea Party conservatives wielded influence over GOP lawmakers, seeking smaller government and deeper spending cuts.

"It was a very different economic time back then, and a very different Congress," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "I think there is such a vocalized hostility by too many in Congress today against the federal work force and federal agencies."

Story: Budget deal reached, government shutdown averted

That warning was echoed by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who predicts it's "highly unlikely" government workers would be reimbursed by Congress this time.

"There are going to be disruptions to our economy all the way down the line," said Moran, whose suburban Washington district includes thousands of federal employees.

At least one House Republican dismissed those fears. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., said he has no interest in penalizing federal workers and would vote to reimburse lost pay.

Hill staff: 'A little in the dark' about who works during a shutdown

"In my opinion, federal workers, their children and families, should not suffer because (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid and President Barack Obama think a shutdown is good politics," said Ross, who considers himself a Tea Party Republican.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, did not respond to a request for comment.

Disparate effects of shutdown
The disparate effects of a shutdown, depending on where government workers are employed, have drawn criticism. By law, Obama and lawmakers will continue to draw salaries even if the government shuts down.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said lawmakers shouldn't be paid if the impasse between Obama and Congress forces a shutdown. He's vowed to donate his salary to charity or give it back to the U.S. Treasury. And Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he would not accept his federal salary during a shutdown.

According to the federal Office of Professional Management, nearly all government employees will be furloughed in a shutdown, except for certain workers who conduct emergency services or perform other work deemed essential. Those employees who keep working under an exception would recover pay for hours worked once Congress passes — and the president signs — new legislation to fund the government.

First Read: The cost of keeping the lights off

But Congress would have to make a separate determination whether nonessential workers could get back pay. After the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns ended, Congress approved back pay so quickly that federal employees never missed a paycheck.

The shutdown, in November 1995, lasted six days and furloughed about 800,000 federal employees. The next, a partial shutdown, lasted three weeks, from mid-December 1995 to early January 1996, and furloughed about 240,000 workers.

State vs. federal gov't employees
Thousands of state government employees have been furloughed without pay in recent years to help ease state budget woes. In California, for example, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered state workers to take two unpaid days off each month in 2009 and later extended the furloughs to three days a month.

Who gets a paycheck if there's a shutdown? Members of Congress still will

Why shouldn't government workers take a similar hit?

Kelley, the federal employee union president, says federal workers are simply bystanders caught in the middle of a political dispute, not part of a calculated plan to save money.

"This is not about a budget that is attempting to cut costs through furloughs," she said. "This is a situation where the parties cannot come to an agreement on a budget. Rather than stepping up and doing their jobs, they are just choosing to do nothing and shutting the government down."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Midnight deadline looms for budget shutdown

  1. Closed captioning of: Midnight deadline looms for budget shutdown

    >>> and welcome to "today" on this friday morning. i'm meredith vieira .

    >> i'm david gregory in for matt this morning. the clock is ticking for lawmakers who want to avoid a government shutdown by midnight tonight. not a lot of progress overnight. still a little bit better than 50/50. this is going down to the wire.

    >> as you said, some lawmakers said a deal is within reach but following late night talks at the white house , president obama said he's not wildly optimistic. we'll go to nbc's savannah guthrie at the white house for us. good morning.

    >> good morning, meredith. we are hours away from a shutdown. there is a good chance that's how it ends today. white house officials were optimistic behind the scenes . one said to me, we are close. staffers worked until 3:00 a.m . and republicans say the numbers just aren't there. today is washington's last day to make a deal. after another late-night meeting with congressional leaders at the white house produced no breakthrough.

    >> there are still a few issues that are outstanding. they're difficult issues. they're important to both sides. so i'm not yet prepared to express wild optimism.

    >> reporter: with aids now saying a deal is within reach, staffers worked again through the night to resolve the outstanding issuings. the two sides are close on the amount of spending cuts, likely to be between $34 billion and $37 billion. the parties are still sparring not about money but over so-called riders to the budget bill , policy provisions the republicans want like a measure to strip funding from planned parenthood . another provision would sharply limit the epa.

    >> the remaining issues are extremely narrow, but having said that i have been to this podium before and i have said we would narrow the issues and we have. but the sad part about it, we keep never quite betting to the finish line.

    >> reporter: with both sides at the brink on thursday, frustration spilled onto the house side.

    >> we are trying to do the business of the american people . [ booing ]

    >> so many of your folks, unless they get 100% are prepared to shut down the government.

    >> reporter: sarah palin took to twitter writing, obama's petulant obstruction equals shutdown. with the money running out at midnight, the federal government is moving ahead with shutdown plans. the president made clear he wants a verdict from the parties first thing today.

    >> because the machinery of the shutdown is necessarily starting to move, i expect an answer in the morning. and my hope is that i'll be able to announce to the american people some time early in the day that a shutdown has been averted.

    >> reporter: one other issue -- will members of congress get paid if there is a shutdown. the answer right now as it stands is yes. there was a measure that passed the senate yesterday that would have congress giving up its pay. it hasn't passed the house. david, just one measure of how acrimonious this has become. this morning white house officials are saying the disagreement is over the policy riders. the republicans say, no, it's all about the spending numbers. they can't even agree on what they are disagreeing about.

    >> savannah guthrie at the white house this morning for us. thank you very much. steny hoyer of maryland is the house minority whip . congressman, good morning.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments