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, senior government officials said today.
Military personnel will be paid eventually but not until Congress appropriates money to the Department of Defense.
"Our military men and women put their lives on the line and sacrifice every day to ensure our security. They should not have to worry about getting paid on time," said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., who co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, that would allow military personnel to receive paychecks in the case of a government shutdown.
When the government was shut down in 1995, military personnel continued to report to work and were paid, but the planning guidance sent to the services and defense agencies says a shutdown this time will be different, according to a report in March by the Air Force Times.
"All military personnel will continue in normal duty status regardless of their affiliation with exempt or non-exempt activities," said the draft planning guidance that was prepared for the services and defense agencies as reported by the Air Force Times. "Military personnel will serve without pay until such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service."
Whether civilians at the Pentagon get paid is another story. Since "non-essential" staff is furloughed during a government shutdown, Congress must decide once it reaches a resolution whether to give backpay 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, says getting furloughed could jeopardize his entire retirement savings. He says 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 will also be impacted. During the last shutdown, contractors did not receive back pay, which some Democrats say 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 finger nails."
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 etc. etc. ... This is very very serious."
Republicans and Democrats sounded more optimistic today that a government shutdown can be avoided, but federal agencies and members of Congress are moving ahead with contingency plans if a deal can't be hatched soon.
The clock is quickly 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.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., huddled once again on Tuesday evening in a meeting that aides say was "productive."
A seemingly frustrated President Obama, who took to the cameras Tuesday to urge lawmakers to act swiftly, said he would host the leaders again today if needed. The three parties met Tuesday at the White House but couldn't find a resolution. The White House says the president may still call a meeting for later today, but as of he is scheduled to make trips to Pennsylvania and New York.
Obama 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 their 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.
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 as well. 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 could also roil stock markets, rattle consumer confidence and hurt tourism, with the severity depending on how long a shutdown lasts. Lawmakers could use the weekend to cobble together a plan that would minimize the impact, since the federal government is shut over the weekend.