US shutdown: Defence staff told to return to work

Pentagon, file pic Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the decision was based on an interpretation of the Pay Our Military Act

Most of the 400,000 US defence department staff sent home amid the US government shutdown have been told to return to work next week.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the decision was based on an interpretation of the Pay Our Military Act.

A budget row between Republicans and Democrats has forced the closure of federal services for five days now.

But the sides have now voted to approve back-pay for the 800,000 federal workers sent home without salaries.

In a rare moment of bipartisan co-operation, the House of Representatives on Saturday approved by 407-0 a bill to pay the federal workers once the shutdown ends.

There remains no sign of any deal on the federal budget, however.

Republicans who control the House of Representatives have refused to approve the budget, saying they would only do so if President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law was delayed or stripped of funding.

Mr Obama and the Democrats have refused, noting the law was passed in 2010, subsequently approved by the Supreme Court, and was a central issue in the 2012 election which Mr Obama won.

'Undiminished'

The Pay Our Military Act was passed by Congress shortly before the shutdown.

John Kerry: Shutdown "an example of the robustness of our democracy"

Mr Hagel said earlier in the week he wanted to find a way to get his civilian staff back to work.

He said lawyers had told him the Pay Our Military Act permitted employees "whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members" to be exempted.

"I expect us to be able to significantly reduce - but not eliminate - civilian furloughs under this process," he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday warned that any prolonged shutdown could affect the US internationally.

But, speaking at a meeting of Asian leaders in Indonesia, he said any impact was "momentary" and Washington's commitment to the region was "undiminished".

President Obama cancelled his Asia visit because of the shutdown.

In his weekly radio address, Mr Obama urged the Republicans to "end this farce".

The next key deadline will be 17 October.

Unless Congress agrees to raise the $16.7 trillion (£10.4 trillion) statutory borrowing limit by then, the US could default on its debts for the first time in its history.

Mr Obama said: "For as reckless as a government shutdown is, an economic shutdown that comes with default would be dramatically worse."

Mr Obama has refused to negotiate with the Republicans until they pass a temporary bill to end the shutdown and raise the debt limit.

The leader of the Republicans in the House, Eric Cantor, said negotiations could end the deadlock, but that President Obama "seems to be unwilling to sit down and talk with us".

Mr Cantor said: "It doesn't make any sense if the president has an axe to grind with the opposing party, why he would want to put the American people in the middle of that?"

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