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Shutdown cuts Christmas vacation short for Federal employees

[WASHINGTON] The government shutdown doesn't mean an extended Christmas break for about 400,000 federal employees deemed essential. Rather, it means those workers need to be back on the job Wednesday - with no exceptions.

Employees who aren't furloughed during a shutdown can't take any time off for vacation, illness or religious obligations, according to the government's Office of Personnel Management rules. Effectively, this means that employees who were planning to take time off between the Christmas and New Year's holidays have to cancel their plans.

The shutdown, which is the third this year, means about half of the approximately 800,000 federal workers at the affected government agencies will work without pay. The Senate unanimously passed a bill that would retroactively pay workers once a spending deal is reached. During prior shutdowns, lawmakers generally have voted to retroactively pay all employees - those who worked and those who were furloughed - after the government re-opens.

The shutdown - which could last into the new year - is the result of an impasse between Republicans, Democrats and the White House over how much money to allocate to President Donald Trump's border wall. The government funding for about a quarter of the federal government - including the Treasury, Homeland Security and Interior Departments - lapsed late Dec. 21.

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Wednesday is the first non-holiday weekday since the shutdown began. As previous presidents have done, Mr Trump signed an executive order designating Monday a federal holiday, so weekday employees weren't required to work. Christmas Day was an annual federal holiday.

Many of the employees affected by the shutdown also don't work a traditional work week, said Ashley De Smeth, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees union. Those who perform shift work, such as border patrol agents and airport security workers, have been unable to take time off and have been working without pay since Saturday, she said.

Still, some lawmakers said they thought the impact on federal workers was being overblown.

"The optics are all hyperbole. They're going to be paid," Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican who supports giving Mr Trump US$5 billion for the wall, told reporters before the shutdown.