A rare flash of bipartisanship Saturday served as a cruel tease to those hoping Congress is moving toward reopening the government and averting an unprecedented default on the federal debt in less than two weeks.
Only two days after House Speaker John Boehner raised hopes by telling colleagues he won’t let the nation go into default, key members of both parties conceded that no one has presented a plausible plan for avoiding it. Instead, they continued to bicker and to ponder the chasm between two warring parties, each of which seems convinced it’s on the winning side morally and politically.
There was, however, relief Saturday for thousands of furloughed Pentagon workers and the promise of back pay for all federal workers who have been forced off the job.
The Pentagon on Saturday ordered at least 90 percent of its roughly 350,000 furloughed civilian employees back to work, significantly reducing the number of sidelined federal workers. In all, about 800,000 federal workers had been furloughed.
Defense Department said the recall is based on a law passed by Congress this week that allows the Pentagon to end furloughs for “employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.” Republicans had complained that the administration was slow to bring back those workers in light of the law.
The larger stalemate over reopening the federal government persists. Boehner, asked Saturday whether Congress was any closer to resolving the impasse, replied: “No.” Aides close to Boehner say he has not figured out how to end the gridlock.
Even the day’s top bipartisan achievement — agreeing to pay furloughed federal employees for the work days they are missing — was a thin victory. Congress made the same deal after the mid-1990s shutdowns, and Saturday’s 407-0 vote was widely expected.
Still, it triggered the sort of derisive quarreling that has prevented Congress from resolving the larger funding and debt dilemmas.