New Federal Employee Holiday (#13)? Not This Time Around

A new federal employee holiday would have been created by the election bill. It failed in the Senate but the issue is not finalized.

In April, FedSmith noted a bill in Congress would create a new federal employee holiday. The holiday would have been created by a bill creating a federal election process. The massive bill was more than 880 pages long and, among other things, would have created a new national holiday in 2022. One section of the bill was entitled “Election Day As Legal Public Holiday.”

Another federal holiday recently came quickly and as a surprise. In fact, it became a new holiday so fast the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) had trouble getting out guidance and information to agencies and employees that the new holiday was actually being observed on Friday, June 18th.

Prior to the law creating Juneteenth as a holiday, federal employees received as many as 11 days off of work, with pay, as holidays. Occasionally, an additional day or additional time is added by the president giving federal employees time off for Christmas Eve.

Election Bill Stalls in the Senate

After months of political wrangling, Senate Republicans blocked Democrats from passing the new election law. In reality, the effort is probably not over.

The Senate is divided 50-50. To overcome a filibuster, 60 votes are required. In effect, some Republican support was necessary for the bill to pass. Without any Republican support, the bill did not advance.

According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “They’ve made abundantly clear that the real driving force behind [the bill] is a desire to rig the rules of American elections permanently in Democrats’ favor.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said after the bill’s failure to pass in the Senate: “In the fight for voting rights, this vote was the starting gun, not the finish line. We have several serious options for how to reconsider this issue and advance legislation to combat voter suppression.”

What Was in the Legislation

Democrats were in agreement on some portions of the legislation including 15 days of continuous, early voting, automatic voter registration for anyone with a driver’s license, along with making Election Day a national holiday. With that basic agreement, all 50 Senate Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of the bill.

The bill did not ban a requirement for voters to show some form of identification as a way of preventing voter fraud. The law would have imposed a national workaround for those without ID that is more lenient than laws in many states that require identification. The bill would also have created an optional government-funded system for congressional campaigns.

Federal Employee Holidays in 2021

Friday, January 1New Year’s Day
Monday, January 18Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Wednesday, January 20Inauguration Day (Washington Metro Area)
Monday, February 15Washington’s Birthday
Monday, May 31Memorial Day
Friday, June 18Juneteenth
Monday, July 5Independence Day
Monday, September 6Labor Day
Monday, October 11Columbus Day
Thursday, November 11Veterans Day
Thursday, November 25Thanksgiving Day
Friday, December 24Christmas Day
2021 Federal Employee Holidays

If the election bill does eventually pass in some form, the creation of a new federal employee holiday would result in 13 holidays for federal employees in some years. Inauguration Day, however, only applies to the Washington, DC area and is only observed every four years.

A new holiday for federal employees is not free. The estimated cost for each federal holiday is $818 million—not including the military or U.S. Postal Service.

Path to Passing Election Bill

One way the election bill could pass is to eliminate the filibuster rule in the Senate. Pressure is increasing on some Democrats in the Senate who oppose this modification to agree with this approach.

A filibuster is a way to delay a vote for strategic political purposes. It is a tactic usually used by the minority party in a legislature. Using a filibuster increased in the years before America’s Civil War. Perhaps the most dramatic use of the filibuster was undertaken by Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC) who spoke using throat lozenges and malted milk balls for 24 hours and 18 minutes to stall passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Those who support ending the legislative filibuster in the Senate contend eliminating the tactic would allow the Senate to pass bills more quickly, and allow small majorities to make decisions on controversial political issues.

Supporters of the filibuster contend it requires the Senate to put together a larger majority (60 votes) on controversial issues. It prevents more radical legislation from passing into law as there must be compromises by political opponents to cobble together the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

The filibuster has been around since the early 1800’s in some form. It has required political pragmatism necessary to overcome strong opposition. Some of the more dramatic examples include President Lyndon Johnson convincing a larger percentage of the Republican caucus to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than he received from Democrats. President Ronald Reagan convinced enough Democrats to pass his tax cut proposals into law. President Bill Clinton worked with Republicans John Kasich and Newt Gingrich to develop and pass welfare reform legislation.

Regardless of how it comes out, the politics surrounding the issue are brutal and likely to make or break the political fortunes of some in Congress.

For now at least, any additional federal employee holidays will depend on future legislative initiatives.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47