WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta broke his silence on the debt-ceiling debate that threatens the government’s ability to write paychecks to troops next week by reminding the entire Defense Department to show up for duty next week.
“Department of Defense personnel should plan to come to work next week, as scheduled, at their normal place and time,” Panetta said, in a message to the troops released late Friday.
Congress must authorize an increase by Tuesday, Aug. 2, according to the Treasury Department, or the U.S. faces default. The potential impact on the economy and the military is unknown, U.S. officials say. Pentagon officials all week have skirted reporters asking for clarity on which items in the defense budget would not be funded. Pentagon press secretary George Little and Defense Department spokesman Col. David Lapan told reporters to “wait and see,” as the Pentagon was talking with the Treasury and the White House Office of Management and Budget about what might be “on or off the table.”
Officials have suggested troops could miss paychecks, but eventually would be paid. "It's not a question of whether, but, when, if an agreement isn't reached," a senior U.S. official said Friday.
Panetta leaned on Congress to "do its job" less than one hour after the House late Friday narrowly passed a bill sponsored by Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R.-Ohio, that raises the debt ceiling — the limit the federal government is authorized to borrow — but only for a few months.
The bill requires the states to pass a balanced-budget Constitutional amendment, cuts $917 billion in spending over 10 years, and would force Congress to take up the debt ceiling again in February, which the White House has warned was unacceptable in any measure.
President Barack Obama said the bill had “no chance” before it even passed by vote of 218-210. No House Democrats voted for it and the bill is considered dead on arrival in the Senate, where members of both parties have warned it would not pass.
“Now that yet another political exercise is behind us, with time dwindling, leaders need to start working together immediately,” said Jay Carney, White House press secretary, in a statement released after the vote.
Congress is expected to vote this weekend on an alternative bill by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, which the White House supports.