Troops Won't Receive Paycheck if Government Shuts Down

Federal agencies prepare for a shutdown; no signs of a bipartisan deal.

April 6, 2011, 10:04 AM

April 6, 2011 — -- Soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan will not receive paychecks next week if the government fails to come together on a resolution to keep the government funded and avert a shutdown before funding dries up on midnight Friday, senior government officials said today.

Military personnel will be paid eventually but not until Congress appropriates money to the Department of Defense.

Marine Michael Goodwin, who serves in Camp Pendleton, Calif. and is about to be deployed overseas, said the shutdown could put his rent payment in jeopardy.

"The main priority is gas so I could get back and forth to work," said Goodwin, who commutes about an hour to work every day. "And if I don't have enough for gas, then there wont be enough for food," "or rent, or car insurance."

"We won't have a place to live if we don't get paid," said his wife, Denise.

Like Goodwin, many military personnel and their spouses survive paycheck to paycheck. Many who are in the field and who are not married have set up automatic payments, and if they don't get word of the shutdown in time, their payments and credit could be impacted.

"Everybody's being caught flat-footed," said Kathy Moakler, a mother of two active-duty service members and government relations director at the National Military Family Association. "I am personally incensed that [at] a time when our families are undergoing stress as it is, that Congress would force them to undergo more stress."

Republicans plan to introduce a bill Thursday that would fund the Department of Defense until September and keep the government running for another week, while cutting $12 billion in discretionary spending. But President Obama has said he won't support such an extension without a long-term plan and it's unlikely to pass in the Senate.

Even if a deal is reached, "it's going to take two or three days to actually put it all together," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said today. "We believe it's important to move this troop funding bill that would keep the government funded for another week."

Civilian employees at the Pentagon could take a big hit if the government closes its doors. Since "non-essential" staff is furloughed during a government shutdown, Congress must decide once it reaches a resolution whether to give back pay to dismissed employees.

"We expect a significant number of civilian DOD employees will unfortunately be furloughed if the government shuts down," a senior administration official said today.

Louis Bornman, a DOD employee who has spent 12 years of active duty in the Army, said getting furloughed could jeopardize his entire retirement savings. He added that it will also adversely impact the federal government and taxpayers.

"It is very demoralizing to think you're going to be laid off and not paid," said Bornman, based in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. "People will have to work overtime in the near future, which ultimately will cost the government more money. ... It's very disconcerting that you're looked upon as disposable when you're providing that backup service that the nation depends upon."

Defense contractors also will be impacted. During the last shutdown, contractors did not receive back pay, which some Democrats said could put small companies out of business.

"It is going to be very severe," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. "Large contractors are going to be OK. They have a sufficient cash reserve. Small contractors are not. ... They are hanging on by their fingernails."

At least 800,000 federal employees are expected to be furloughed, the same as the 1995 shutdown. But unlike then, it's unclear whether they would receive back pay for the lost time.

"I have a very strong conclusion after talking with some of these guys there will be no reimbursement," Moran said today. If the shutdown is prolonged, "it is going to have a very severe impact upon federal employees' ability to make their mortgage payments, car payments, et cetera. ... This is very, very serious."

Members of Congress, however, will continue to be paid. Every lawmaker must decide which of their employees is considered essential and should be kept on staff while the government is shut.

President Obama today chided Republicans for not coming together on a deal, saying that he and Democrats agreed to the spending cuts the GOP originally asked for.

"We've agreed to a compromise but somehow we don't have a deal, because some folks are trying to inject politics in what should be a simple debate about how to pay our bills," the president said. "They're stuffing all kinds of issues in there: abortion and the environment, health care. You know, there's time to have those discussions but that time is not now."

Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., were meeting with Obama at the White House for the second day in a row this evening to hash out a deal.

A White House official said the goal at the White House meeting was not to reach a deal, just to get things back on track because negotiations "went off the rails" today.

Capitol Hill sources also felt major developments were unlikely at the White House, but offered a more optimistic take on the state of negotiations.

A top Republican said he was "much more optimistic" that a deal would be struck to avoid a shutdown.

A top Democrat put even odds on avoiding a shutdown, but added of negotiations, "We are pretty much there substantively."

The clock quickly is running out for lawmakers. Per House rules, legislation has to be posted 48 hours before a vote, which means the GOP leadership has until Thursday morning to post the bill.

Obama has pushed Boehner to sell the $33 billion in cuts Democrats say they originally negotiated with him. The speaker, they say, backed out because of pressure from Tea Party members and conservatives in his own caucus. Boehner said the two sides never agreed to that number, and he pushed for at least $40 billion in cuts Tuesday.

Tea Party-backed members of Congress want to stick to the $61 billion in cuts proposed in the original continuing resolution that passed on Feb. 19. The two short-term extensions that the House has passed in recent weeks cut a total of $10 billion.

The Office of Personnel Management has started planning for a shutdown, which last happened in 1996 under President Bill Clinton.

Under federal laws, essential staff still have to report to work, but all nonessential staff will be furloughed without pay. Furloughed staff are not allowed to work as unpaid volunteers to the government, enter their offices, use their work blackberries or computers, and access their work e-mail.

Each agency is responsible for identifying its essential staff. Federal employees who are "necessary to protect life and property" and are needed to perform an "orderly shutdown of emergency operations" are considered "essential." That includes most national intelligence staff, military personnel, air traffic controllers, law enforcement, emergency and disaster personnel, the Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard and similar staff.

During the last full five-day shutdown in 1995, an estimated 800,000 federal employees were furloughed, according to the Congressional Research Service. A smaller figure, 284,000, were furloughed in the partial 21-day shutdown that followed soon after.

Amid contractors, who are unlikely to receive back pay, more than 20 percent were negatively impacted by the last funding lapse.

A much larger number likely will be affected this time because of the size and scope of the federal government.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray said Tuesday that because D.C.'s federal subsidy would be affected, trash collection and pothole repair in the city could be threatened during a shutdown.

The ripple effects of a shutdown will be felt outside of the nation's capital. The U.S. Postal Service will operate as normal, since it is self-funded. Social Security, veterans and Medicare checks would continue to be disbursed, although there could be a delay in services for new registrants and those who have filed a change of address form.

Many Americans may have to hold off on their travel plans. Museums and national parks will close, as will the national zoo, and passport applications will be delayed.

Some government inspection services, such as for meat, may be delayed.

The uncertainty also could roil stock markets, rattle consumer confidence and hurt tourism, with the severity depending on how long a shutdown lasts.

The average federal government worker makes $1,404 weekly, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. If 800,000 of them are furloughed and don't get a paycheck during a government shutdown, it zaps about $1.1 billion out of the economy in direct employee compensation each week.

ABC News' Barbara Garcia, Jon Karl, Dan Arnall and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

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