Over the past few weeks, my military friends and I have voiced our fears about what would happen in the event of a government shutdown. My Facebook newsfeed is dotted with status updates from worried military wives who are afraid that a government shutdown would mean that their paychecks would stop. The possibility of having a gap in pay of unknown length is very worrisome for anyone, but piling that worry on top of the weight that the troops already carry is cause for concern. The current plan of the Defense Department is that service members will have to work without pay if Congress doesn’t succeed in keeping the government running.
However, on Friday a group of Republicans in Congress led by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) met to discuss what has been named the Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act. There is no guarantee that this bill will pass, but it is a step in protecting military pay in the event of a government shutdown.
Gohmert said that the goal of this bill is to reassure military members that no matter what happened to the federal budget, they will still be paid on time.
Co-sponsors of the bill acknowledged that under the current plan troops would still be paid in the event of a government shutdown, but that pay would be retroactive and checks would come after government funding is restored. But for many military families, this is no consolation. A large percentage of service members and their families would not be able to meet their day-to-day financial obligations if they had to wait for government funding before receiving their paychecks.
The Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act protects military pay just for this year and would cover the military payroll by ordering the Defense Department to dip into the general treasury instead of allowing military pay to gap while waiting for funding. Since October 1, which was the start of the fiscal year, Congress has passed six short-term appropriations bills to prevent a government shutdown. Midnight on April 8 is the expiration date for the latest temporary funding bill passed by Congress.
There is enormous pressure on Congress to reach an agreement on the 2011 budget and the possibility that troops will not be paid if they do not reach a compromise compounds that pressure. Some of the pressure would be relieved if lawmakers did not have to worry about whether or not military service members would be paid. In order for this bill to be signed into law it must first pass the House and the Senate. At this time, no vote date has been scheduled.