Troops Won't Receive Paycheck if Government Shuts Down

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

ByABC News
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.