ST. LOUIS – Thousands of civilian employees furloughed last week at Illinois military installations as part of the fallout from the federal government shutdown returned to their posts Monday, but it wasn’t clear when they may receive retroactive pay.
The callbacks at Scott Air Force Base and the Great Lakes Naval Training Station came the same day a Democratic congressman whose southern Illinois district includes Scott shrugged off the spotlight drawn to him as the only House vote against a resolution allowing military chaplains to return to work during the shutdown.
Rep. Bill Enyart, whose more than three decades in the military included heading the Illinois National Guard, called the measure “an absolutely phony, feel-good bill that had nothing to do with reality,” including no mechanism to pay the chaplains if they did return to work.
“I don’t care if I was the only congressman” behind the only “no” vote out of 401 votes cast Saturday, the first-term Democrat told The Associated Press by telephone. “I’m sorry nobody else had the intestinal fortitude to take that stance. It was time for the [yellow] flag to be thrown on that one.”
At the 13,000-employee Air Force base, the St. Louis region’s biggest employer, all of the affected 3,500 civilian workers were back at work six days after they were sent home as part of the U.S. government’s first shutdown in 17 years.
Those workers – about two-thirds of the base’s non-military staff – were to resume collecting pay, although how soon they will be reimbursed for time spent on furlough will depend on how soon Congress passes a budget, Scott spokeswoman Karen Petitt said.
The Senate will try to vote this week on a bill that passed the House unanimously Saturday to pay federal workers for days missed.
“While we’re back to normal staffing, we are still affected by the lack of budget, working primarily mission-essential items,” Petitt said in an emailed statement.
Angelina Casarez considered the return to her full-time public affairs intern job at Scott a blessing, ending the “definitely nerve-racking” uncertainty. She worried the furlough would drag on and harm the finances of her household, which includes a husband and two sons, ages 11 and 3.
“It’s been stressful, so it’s good to be back with my Air Force family,” said Casarez, 29. “We still have bills to pay, and our daily lives don’t stop because we’re furloughed.”
At the Great Lakes Naval Training Station north of Chicago, spokesman John Sheppard said he was among the 90 percent of the 2,500 furloughed civilian workers who returned to their desks Monday at the Navy’s only boot camp in the U.S.
The callbacks came after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday ordered 350,000 furloughed military personnel back on the job.
Enyart’s lone stance against the chaplain-related measure the same day quickly drew partisan criticism.
Illinois state Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican seeking election next year to Enyart’s seat, told WSIL-TV that Enyart’s vote either reflects “not understanding the job or being totally out of touch with your constituents.”
Enyart countered that he could not vote for a measure that “provided no funding, no authority, no anything.”
“I spent 36 years in the military, and when I see something like that I know it’s B.S.,” the Belleville attorney told the AP. “It would have been easy to push the green button for a ‘yes’ vote. But that’s not the right thing to do.”
He said he isn’t fretting any political fallout.
“That’s what I’m tired of – stupid votes designed solely to create a political edge for the next election” more than a year away, he said. “Why not serious governing instead of political posturing?”