A large chunk of the 800,000 furloughed federal employees will soon be returning to work, but a resolution to the budget impasse that led to a partial government shutdown is nowhere in sight with both sides sticking to their positions.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered nearly all 350,000 furloughed Defense Department civilian employees back on the job. Hagel said he based his decision on a Pentagon interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act, which was passed shortly before the partial government shutdown began.
Republican lawmakers had complained in recent days that the Obama administration was slow to bring back those workers even though the law allowed it.
The federal government was partially shut down Tuesday, the first day of the new budget year, after Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree on a plan to continue funding federal agencies.
House Republicans are demanding significant changes to Obama's signature health care law in exchange for reopening the government, a demand that Democrats say is absurd.
Since Tuesday, the Republican-led House of Representatives has passed several bills to reopen selected parts of the government. Democratic leaders are rejecting the piecemeal approach, saying the entire government should be reopened and the 800,000 federal workers on furlough put back to work.
House Speaker John Boehner did not see an end to the impasse. Asked Sunday how the standoff ends, he was uncertain: "If I knew, I'd tell you.''
The top Republican in the House of Representatives added that President Barack Obama can call him any time to start negotiations to end the shutdown. ``He knows what my phone number is,'' Boehner said on ABC television.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Sunday that Congress should act immediately to reopen the government because the votes are there to pass a temporary budget measure.
"There are no winners here,'' Lew said on NBC. "Every day the government is shut down does real harm to the American people.''
Lew said that members of Congress "need to open the government up. They can do it today.''
In a rare Saturday session _ and an even rarer showing of bipartisanship _ the House voted 407-0 to pass a bill to provide furloughed workers with back pay. The Obama administration supports the retroactive pay bill and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he expects the Democratic-led Senate to pass it.
The vote was widely expected. Congress made the same deal after the mid-1990s shutdowns.
The back-pay bill and Hagel's decision Saturday, based