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Congress’s spending deal doesn’t include back pay for federal contractors

It also doesn’t have an extension of the Violence Against Women Act.

Union Organizers In Washington, D.C. Hold Rallies Calling For End To Government Shutdown
Hundreds of federal workers and contractors rally against the partial federal government shutdown outside the headquarters of the AFL-CIO on January 10, 2019, in Washington, DC. 
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Congressional lawmakers have finally released the full text of a spending package that includes $1.3 billion for new fencing along the southern border and funding for nine federal departments through September. The deal, if it passes and is signed by President Trump, means the government will avoid another shutdown.

This legislation is a product of weeks of whirlwind negotiations by House and Senate appropriators who were tasked with figuring out a compromise on border security that could satisfy both Democrats and the president, in the wake of a 35-day shutdown over Trump’s demands for a border wall.

The speedy release of the deal is a testament to how untenable lawmakers thought another shutdown would be. What’s also notable, however, is what the agreement doesn’t include.

Back pay for hundreds of thousands of government contractors isn’t included

Democratic lawmakers led by Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith wanted to attach a bill guaranteeing back pay for federal contractors to a final spending package in an effort to provide some financial relief for as many as 580,000 workers who may have missed out on wages during the recent shutdown. Contractors say they struggled with everything from covering medications to buying baby formula.

The legislation, which would have been the first law of its kind to grant contractors back pay after a government shutdown, had been caught up in spending negotiations and faced Republican pushback, according to multiple Democratic sources. As Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told reporters pointedly on Wednesday, “I’ve been told the president won’t sign that ... I guess federal contractors are different in his view than federal employees.”

It’s true that there isn’t a precedent for providing back pay for federal contractors after a shutdown, unlike those that have been established for compensating furloughed federal employees. Democrats have argued, however, that there also wasn’t a precedent for the painful duration of the shutdown, which meant that things should change this year. A Trump administration official, meanwhile, told HuffPost that setting up a process for offering workers back pay could mean a steep additional cost for federal agencies.

What Smith’s bill would have done was relatively straightforward: It would have simply asked agencies to pay out funds they had already allocated to different contracts, money they would have spent had the government not been shut down.

Smith says she’s not done pushing the bill, which could still get floor consideration in the future, even though it was left out of this agreement.

“My legislation to right this wrong, which had bipartisan support, should have been included in the final budget deal, but I’m not done fighting to make this right, and I’ll keep on working to get it done,” she said in a statement.

Funding for the Violence Against Women Act was also left out

Funding for the Violence Against Women Act was another policy priority that is not addressed in the spending agreement. A stopgap measure that Congress had previously passed only covered funding for the legislation, which helps provide grants to programs that combat violence and sexual abuse, through this Friday.

On this subject, Democrats were the ones who weren’t interested in just putting another extension of VAWA into the deal.

As Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski and Paul Krawzak report, Democrats have a much more expansive version of the legislation that they’d like to see considered, which would add provisions like helping those affected by domestic violence address evictions and updating gun control laws so anyone convicted of dating violence or stalking would be barred from owning a firearm.

Democrats feared that another extension of VAWA would enable Congress to punt the review of such additions even further down the road. As a result, the legislation will expire temporarily, though a Democratic aide told Roll Call the effects of this will be minimal.

While these policy proposals won’t be weighed by Congress via this deal, it definitely doesn’t mean they’re done for good. Both are expected to remain key issue areas Democrats will be pushing in the coming months.

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