If I’m reading the calendar correctly we have about four congressional working days until the government shuts down, assuming we don’t get some sort of deal on a continuing resolution. So what happens next? For one thing a whole bunch of federal workers will be placed on unpaid leave and sent home unless they are in “critical” positions which can’t be left vacant. This clearly calls for quick action by our elected representatives and you may rest assured that they’re all over this thing. A bipartisan proposal is in place to make sure that as soon as the curtains close on Shutdown Theater all of those workers will get back the pay they missed out on immediately. (Government Executive)

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are trying to ensure that federal employees who are furloughed during a government shutdown receive back pay as soon as possible.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., sent a letter to their House colleagues on Tuesday urging them to support legislation that would provide retroactive pay to all federal employees immediately after the government reopens. “Preferably, Congress will reach an agreement to enact legislation to fully fund the government and allow our dedicated federal workforce to continue to carry out its critical mission,” the Sept. 22 letter stated. “In absence of such agreement and with time running dangerously short, federal employees should be assured that there is agreement in Congress that they will receive their pay in a fair and timely manner.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., has introduced a similar bill.

There are few things to be said in favor of a government shutdown, but there are a couple of notable exceptions. One is the obvious observation that, given the current state of our dysfunctional executive and legislative branches, when the government is out of business they can’t actually mess anything else up. The second is that, while the savings may be relatively small in the larger scheme of things, we actually manage to spend less money when the lights are out.

Of course, one of the most powerful political images which the media uses to hammer the GOP in the event of a shutdown (no matter who really caused it) is the picture of all the government workers sent home and not getting paid. Think of the children! Regardless of the fact that tons of private sector workers get sent home all the time in this economy and never have their wages restored, the government employees merit special media attention. They get interviewed constantly with the same haunting tones and themes that you see in those Sarah McLachlan commercials for preventing animal cruelty. This turns out to be a powerful political totem.

So, rather than working on the actual issues and challenges which lead to shutdowns, we’re apparently going to whip up a bandage of appeasement and make sure that all of those federal workers get “back pay” for days they didn’t actually work. I understand I’m going to come off as the heartless, puppy kicking bad guy here, but what about all of the temp service and staffing firm workers out there? When somebody in DC or on Wall Street screws up and the economy shudders, their phones ring almost immediately telling them to not bother coming in until further notice. When things pick up they are brought back to work. Do they get paid for the time they missed? No, they do not… because they didn’t go to work. It’s tragic, but it’s also the way of the world for adults in the current employment climate.

But politics rules the day, so these federal workers will get their “back pay” as soon as Congress turns the lights back on. Exit question: doesn’t “back pay” sound, by definition, like pay which you didn’t receive for work you actually did? How is the taxpayer on the hook for this?