Active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces and military civilians who support them still have to show up to work even if the government shuts down next Friday, inspiring lawmakers to find a way to pay them minus a Defense Department operating budget.
According to a senior defense official, active-duty military would be required to work since they are considered "essential government personnel" exempt from a shutdown -- as are military civilians acting in support of U.S. operations and activities like those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas and Jack Kingston of Georgia said Friday they want to make sure the troops get paid for their work even without a new funding measure in place.
"We've got people standing up and protecting us," Gohmert said. "The last thing they should have to worry about is if their paycheck gets to their account on time."
Congress is working on a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. It has passed six continuing resolutions to keep government operating at 2010 levels, but the latest CR expires on April 8, and lawmakers have expressed little interest in passing another temporary extension.
The Republicans said that by moving on the bill, Congress would ensure that members of the military would not be used as "political chips or pawns" in the ongoing spending debate, which has centered on whether to cut $33 billion -- the Senate Democratic proposal -- or $61 billion -- the House Republican plan -- from the remaining unfunded fiscal year budget.
Gohmert said the proposal should serve as a wake-up call to leadership in both parties to get something done.
Without an exception, service members would get back pay in full once an appropriations bill or continuing resolution to allow temporary funding is passed.
But even if the government does shut down, the military might not feel the pinch right away.
The military is paid twice monthly, and according to a senior Republican aide who was in Congress during the 1995-1996 shutdowns, a check would be arriving in the mail around the 15th, for services earned prior to April 8. Since the military would be receive back pay, the only way they may notice lost wages is if the shutdown lasted for several weeks.
Nonetheless, freshman Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., reflecting on his experience as an Army officer in South Korea during the budget impasses of the mid-1990s, noted that family finances were not far from his soldiers' minds.
"A lot of the soldiers that were there were thinking about what would happen with their families back home," he said. "So it was a very concerted effort that leadership had to make sure of was to quell the rumors and quell the fears of the soldiers."
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said not only should the military get paid but "Congress should take the haircut" if there is a shutdown -- and be denied their pay for the period of the shutdown.
However, such a proposal would not be implemented during this Congress. Even if a bill to cut off paychecks for members during a shutdown were to make it through the House and Senate this year, the measure would be unconstitutional under the 27th Amendment, which bars changes to lawmakers' pay from taking effect before the next election has occurred.