Why Pay `Em To Stay Home? It's The Law

WHAT A BRILLIANT IDEA FOR balancing the budget: pay $150 million a day for 800,000 federal employees not to work. After the government shut down on Nov. 14, both Congress and the Clintonites assured these nonessential workers, 40% of the nose count, they wouldn't miss a paycheck--even though it might be late. So why not just keep them on the job?

Blame a 19th century law called the Anti-Deficiency Act that, among other things, bars employees from working for free. Its aim: To avoid embroiling Washington in disputes if the workers later filed for back wages. For decades, the rules were mostly ignored. The Carter Administration, however, issued the strict interpretation used here.

The charade steams lawyer James Feldesman, who handles government personnel disputes: "Congress could easily fix the law and end this silliness."

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