WASHINGTON — A bill to ensure the armed forces get paid on time, regardless of whether the federal government shuts down, is picking up steam, though proponents can’t say yet if it will be able to pass by tonight’s midnight deadline.
Two nearly identical bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would ensure military pay continues through the end of the calendar year, regardless of the federal government’s operating status.
Both have significant support, and proponents say they’d pass easily if they came to a vote — perhaps unanimously — but so far there’s been no agreement to bring them to the floor.
In the Senate, the measure has a filibuster-proof 60 co-sponsors, including Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. Klobuchar said that primary sponsor Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, wants to bring the bill up later today under unanimous consent, but nothing has been scheduled yet.
Co-sponsors of an identical House measure number more than 110, and include Minnesotans Michele Bachmann, Chip Cravaack, John Kline and Tim Walz.
But it’s not certain the bill will make it to the House floor. Asked if the House would consider the military pay stand-alone, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner simply replied, “We’ll see.”
If the federal government does shut down, members of the military — including those on active duty in war zones like Afghanistan — would still have to report to work and do their jobs, and they’d still be earning money. They just wouldn’t be paid until the government restarts.
The next paycheck in question is due next Friday, April 15.
Bachmann says troops being used as ‘political football’
It’s hard to assign any amount of blame for why military pay hasn’t been dealt with yet, partially because everyone on Capitol Hill supports a plan that would pay the troops.
Start with the one that’s already passed the House. Republicans included a military funding provision for the rest of the fiscal year (through September) in their one-week continuing resolution Thursday. But because it’s coupled with a bunch of unrelated legislative non-starters, it’s going nowhere. President Obama has pledged to veto it if it comes to his desk, which it won’t, because Senate leader Harry Reid won’t bring it up.
Democrats in the House offered the GOP a one-week federal funding extension, which would continue everything as it is through next week Friday. Republican leaders, who want to cut spending in every spending bill, said no.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid earlier this afternoon said he may be willing to offer a similar very short-term continuing resolution with no changes from current funding levels so a deal could be finalized. Unless Reid has an agreement in hand, which he hasn’t said publicly, it’s unclear if the rejection of that deal from House Republicans still stands.
“I think that’s a great bill, and I think we need to do that as a stand-alone, so we can get that issue off the table,” said Bachmann. “I just think that it’s wrong to have them be a political football, and I think people are just really tired of it, the people I represent they’re tired of the games, and they just don’t want to see the military being impacted.”
Bachmann has said she will vote against any federal budget bill that doesn’t contain a full defunding of the health care law, but said troop pay is something that must continue no matter what.
Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who stood alongside Bachmann as the House bill was introduced one week ago, said he was confident a shutdown could be avoided and would render this question academic.
Still, “I would feel safer if we went ahead and passed it,” Kingston said. “If you got it in the Senate and there’s a little difference, you could do a conference committee in 20 minutes and get it done by [unanimous consent] and everybody would probably be OK with it.”
On the other side of the aisle, Klobuchar said today there’s broad agreement in the Senate that military members should be paid, on time, regardless of the continuing conflict in Washington over spending.
One glimmer of hope for troops, regardless of congressional action or inaction, came late Thursday from Navy Federal Credit Union, which said it will cover the April 15 paycheck for its active-duty military and Defense Department civilian members who have direct deposit.
Navy FCU is a 3.6 million-member credit union that serves members of the armed forces from all service branches.
“We want to ensure, to the extent possible, that our military families do not suffer financially in the wake of a political impasse,” said CEO Cutler Dawson. “By covering the mid-month pay, come April 15, our active duty members will not see a difference in their direct deposit amount, as if there were no shutdown.”