DOD recall, back-pay bill mark fifth day of shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — For days lawmakers have debated which federal workers should be put back to work. Defense Secretary Chuck

Hagel ended the argument Saturday for most Pentagon civilian employees, ordering nearly all 350,000 back on the job.

That's a large chunk of the estimated

800,000 federal workers on furlough because of the partial government

shutdown. All

those in the government off the job or working without paychecks

would benefit from a bill the House approved Saturday without

dissent that orders them to be paid once the shutdown ends.

The back-pay bill and Hagel's decision,

based on a bill supported by Republicans and Democrats and signed into

law by President

Barack Obama, would appear to take a big bite out of the impact of

the political impasse that has left the government without

a budget. With an unprecedented default on the federal debt in

less than two weeks, key members of both parties concede that

no one has presented a plausible plan for avoiding it.

Hagel said he based his decision on a

Pentagon interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act, which

was passed shortly

before the partial government shutdown began last Tuesday.

Republican lawmakers had complained in recent days that the Obama

administration was slow to bring back those workers even though

the law allowed it.

In a written statement explaining his

action, Hagel said the Justice Department advised that the law does not

permit a blanket

recall of all Pentagon civilians. But government attorneys

concluded that the law does allow the Pentagon to eliminate furloughs

for "employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale,

well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members."

Hagel said he has told Pentagon officials,

including leaders of the military services, to "identify all employees

whose activities

fall under these categories." He said civilian workers should

stand by for further word this weekend.

In remarks to reporters, Robert Hale, the

Pentagon's budget chief, said he did not yet know the exact number of

civilians

who would be brought back to work but that it would be "90 percent

plus." He said there are about 350,000 civilians on furlough,

somewhat fewer than the 400,000 that officials had previously

indicated. If 90 percent were recalled that would mean 315,000

coming off furlough.

Hale said that even with this relief, the effect of the furloughs has been severe.

"We've seriously harmed civilian morale; this (recall) will be a start back," he said.

Hale said he hoped that a "substantial

number" could be returned to work on Monday but that an exact timetable

was not available.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats

continued to bicker and to ponder the chasm between their warring

parties, each

of which seems convinced it's on the winning side morally and

politically. House Speaker John Boehner, asked Saturday whether

Congress was any closer to resolving the impasse, replied: "No."

Aides say he has not figured out how to end the gridlock.

Even the top bipartisan achievement of the

shutdown's fifth day — 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.

"Of all the bizarre moments" involved in the debate, said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, "this may be the most bizarre: that

we will pay people not to work." He called it "the new tea party sense of fiscal responsibility."

House Republicans said they want to ease the pain from the partial shutdown. Democrats said Congress should fully re-open

the government and let employees work for the pay they're going to receive.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Saturday the Democratic-controlled Senate will approve retroactive pay for

furloughed workers, although he didn't specify when.

The politics of the shutdown have merged

with partisan wrangling over the graver issue of raising the federal

debt limit by

Oct. 17. If that doesn't happen, the White House says, the

government will be unable to pay all its bills, including interest

on debt. Economists say a U.S. default would stun world markets

and likely send this nation, and possibly others, into recession.

Boehner, R-Ohio, and Obama say they abhor the idea of a default. But they and their respective parties have not budged from

positions that bar a solution.

Obama says he will not negotiate tax and spending issues if they are linked to a debt-ceiling hike. Boehner and his GOP allies

say they will not raise the ceiling unless Democrats agree to deep spending cuts.

Many House Republicans also demand curbs to Obama's signature health care law as a condition of reopening the government.

The president and his allies call the demand absurd.