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The piecemeal party

The House on Saturday passed a bill that would grant back-pay to furloughed federal employees.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

The House on Saturday passed a bill that would grant back-pay to furloughed federal employees.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, right, joined by members of the Republican Caucus, watches during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Republicans and Democrats may still be at an impasse over how to resolve the shutdown, but that doesn’t mean the House isn’t keeping busy.

House lawmakers showed up to work for the second weekend in a row as the U.S. reached day five of government shutdown. The House passed a measure Saturday morning that would provide back-pay for furloughed federal employees once the shutdown ends. The bill passed in a 407-0 vote, and has been backed by the White House. A similar bill, sponsored by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, awaits approval in the Senate, but it is unclear when that chamber will take it up.

Speaking from the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that it was “cruel” to promise furloughed workers backpay while refusing to let them return to work.

“These are ordinary Americans who haven’t been treated very well the last few years by the Republicans anyway,” he said. “They treat federal employees like they are a lower class of worker than other people.”

More than 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed since the shutdown began on Tuesday after House Republicans refused to keep the government open unless Congress defunds President Obama’s healthcare law. However, the Defense Department announced on Saturday that they would soon recall more than 300,000 civilian employees, drastically reducing the number of workers still out on furlough. The department had originally furloughed about 400,000 workers, roughly half of all government furloughs.

The Republican strategy since the government slogged to a halt has been to pass “piecemeal” bills, refunding whatever agencies and services they would like to see running again, while keeping the rest of the federal government closed.

Few of these bills will have any tangible, real-world effect. The Democrat-controlled Senate will not pass any of these piecemeal bills, and even if they did, the White House has made clear that President Obama would veto them.

“Consideration of appropriations bills in a piecemeal fashion is not a serious or responsible way to run the United States Government,” said the White House Office of Management and Budget in a statement of administration policy [PDF] released earlier this week. “Instead of opening up a few Government functions, the House of Representatives should re-open all of the Government.”

The piecemeal bills already passed by the House have dealt with some of the most visible consequences of the shutdown.

When veterans were initially turned away from visiting the WWII Memorial in Washington, House Republicans made a commotion over the closures–some even blamed the Park Service. The House then passed the Open Our National Parks and Museum Act to open national parks, museums and national monuments. A bill restoring funding to the National Institutes on Health (NIH) was passed shortly after reports first came out that the agency’s Clinic Center had been forced to turn away new patients, including some children with cancer.

Other recently passed House bills would refund the municipal government of Washington, D.C., FEMA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). The bills expected to be considered over the next few days include legislation refunding the FDA, the National Weather Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Additionally, House Republicans have proposed a bill to restore funding to the federally funded low-income childcare program called Head Start. On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that roughly 50 Head Start sites across the country had been forced to close as a result of the shutdown, leaving about 3,200 preschool-aged children without professional childcare. President Obama highlighted the shutdown’s effect on Head Start during his weekly Saturday address.

Republicans “don’t get to kick a child out of Head Start if I don’t agree to take her parents’ health insurance away,” he said, reiterating his opposition to any shutdown resolution which would delay or eliminate Obamacare.