WASHINGTON, D.C. [02/14/19]–Today, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) expressed disappointment that her bipartisan legislation is not included in the budget agreement to avoid another shutdown, but said she will keep fighting for these workers.
In the speech, Sen. Smith reiterated her willingness to work with the White House and fellow congressional leaders so that steps can be taken to improve the bill and ultimately be passed into law.
You can download video of Sen. Smith’s speech here[TK].
“During the longest federal government shutdown in history, thousands of Americans who serve as contractors to the federal government lost over one month’s pay, through no fault of their own,”Sen. Smith said. “…Unfortunately, while federal employees have received back pay – a bill that this chamber passed unanimously – their contractor counterparts have been left out in the cold, with no back pay.”
“Let me be clear. If the White House, or anyone, has suggestions on ways to improve this legislation to make it easier to implement, we’re all ears. We would be happy to accommodate any reasonable suggestions.”
You can read Sen. Smith’s remarks as prepared for delivery below:
Floor Statement on Path Forward to Provide Back Pay for Federal Contractors
Mr. President, I rise today to speak on the government funding agreement announced last night. I appreciate the work of Sen. Shelby, Sen. Leahy, and the appropriations committee in working to reach a bipartisan agreement. And I appreciate the efforts of Sen. McConnell, Sen. Schumer, and our House counterparts for their work on reaching an agreement as well.
I’m glad that we will avert another government shutdown and make critical investments in several areas that are important to Minnesota.
However, there is an important piece of unfinished business that wasn’t included in the agreement, and that is to provide back pay for the employees of federal contractors who were forced out of work for more than a month during the shutdown.
During the longest federal government shutdown in history, thousands of Americans who serve as contractors to the federal government lost over one month’s pay, through no fault of their own. And these are people who work as security guards and clean office buildings, and they work shoulder to shoulder with federal employees, for all of us.
Unfortunately, while federal employees have received back pay – a bill that this chamber passed unanimously – their contractor counterparts have been left out in the cold, with no back pay.
Mr. President, I have introduced legislation, which has bipartisan support, which would right this wrong. It should have been included in the final budget deal, but it appears that the White House blocked it.
Now, I’ve talked with many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle here in this Senate chamber and I’ve not found a single person who says that contractors don’t deserve back pay. We all agree on this and that’s why every Democrat in this chamber has cosponsored my bill, and it’s why several of my Republican colleagues, and many others in this room have not only cosponsored but also expressed support for finding a solution to this challenge.
So why not provide back pay to contractors in the funding bill before us today?
Because it appears the White House apparently has said not to do it. But I’ve talked to the White House just in the last week. I didn’t hear any fundamental reason why our plan couldn’t go forward and why challenges couldn’t be resolved.
While I don’t claim to know the White House’s motivation in opposing this bill, I do know that there are several misconceptions about this legislation that I would like to address today.
First, some have claimed that the problem is too complicated to solve, or would involve a new and untested process. But that’s not right. My bill would allow agencies make what’s called “equitable adjustment” to contract prices to compensate contractors who provide back pay for their furloughed employees.
This is used regularly by contracting officers and contractors. It has already been used to address other shutdown-related claims, including hundreds and hundreds of claims for shutdown-related compensation this year alone. This process has already been used to pay contractors, just not for back pay.
So my bill builds on the existing processes already in place—processes that are established and not that complicated.
Second, some have claimed that the administrative costs of the bill would be too large. That’s simply false. It’s true agencies would need to take administrative steps to implement the bill – just as they would with the passage of any legislation. But again, my bill builds on an existing administrative process that is used regularly and efficiently, without large administrative costs.
Let me be clear. If the White House, or anyone, has suggestions on ways to improve this legislation to make it easier to implement, we’re all ears. We would be happy to accommodate any reasonable suggestions. We just haven’t seen any. We haven’t received any specific suggestions.
Now, too often contractors are invisible to the public but they have suffered greatly during the recent shutdown. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and I recently authored an op-ed about a worker named Tamela who we met.
“[Tamela] was worried she would fall behind on her mortgage and car payments, ruining the good credit she’d worked so long and so hard to build. And as she spoke, beads of sweat rolled down her face. Was she nervous about speaking in front of a crowd? No. As Tamela explained, she’s diabetic and has high blood pressure. Without her regular paycheck, she hadn’t been able to afford the co-pay for a doctor’s appointment to have her blood tested and her prescription renewed. So she was going without her medicine.”
I also recently received a letter from Annie, a federal contractor in Duluth. Annie wrote:
“I am losing wages that I count on each month to make significant payments towards my student loans and contributions to my savings (including my retirement savings). I can honestly say I never thought I’d be applying for unemployment, especially at 31 years old, but today I did just that.”
These employees deserve back pay. They had nothing to do with creating this crisis and we should be able to come together, in a bipartisan way, to make sure these workers receive back pay. So I’m going to keep working to get this bill passed, and I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues on both sides to find a path forward.