The House overwhelmingly passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., that would have repaid the employees. But the measure hit resistance from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who said Congress should use money from its own budget rather than Transportation's to compensate the employees. Lawmakers should be penalized, he said, for causing the furloughs through a delay passing a 30-day extension of the Highway Trust Fund.
Connolly's language was added to a larger Senate bill that would have authorized unemployment insurance and COBRA health benefits for an additional 30 days. But that bill, too, hit Republican opposition, and Democratic lawmakers were unable to pass it before the two-week Easter recess. The Senate will reconvene on April 12.
George Burke, spokesman for Connolly, noted Congress repaid federal employees who were out of work for nearly one month when the government shut down in 1995. "Quite frankly, it's a little absurd, since the money to pay for those folks has long been appropriated," he said. "They just need to get paid."
Coburn's office did not return calls for comment.