CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – Defense Secretary Robert Gates told troops deployed in Iraq that he knows what it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck and so hopes the federal government will not shut down on Friday. But if the White House and Congress cannot make a deal, troops may not see a paycheck at the end of the month.
Before Gates arrived to meet with 200 soldiers from the U.S. Division-Central headquarters in Baghdad for a typical open question-and-answer session, several unit members said they planned to ask him about the shutdown affecting their pay. And it was the first question asked by one unidentified soldier: “How do you see the possible government shutdown affecting military pay?”
“Well, first of all, let me say you will be paid,” Gates said, drawing a big Army "Hooah!."
“You know, as a historian, it always occurred to me that the smart thing for government was always to pay the guys with guns first.”
But then Gates turned serious, explaining that based on information he received Thursday morning, if the government shutdown begins on Apr. 8 and lasts for one week, troops would get half a paycheck. If it goes on from April 15-30, however, troops would not get a paycheck.
In that scenario, all troops eventually would be back-paid in full for their time.
"So ... that's the deal," he said. "And frankly I remember when I was your age I did a lot of living paycheck-to-paycheck, and so I hope this thing doesn't happen because I know it'll be an inconvenience for a lot of – a lot of troops."
Later, he told reporters: “When I start to think about the inconvenience that it’s going to cause these kids, and a lot of their families – even half a paycheck delayed can be a problem for them. So I hope they work this whole thing out.”
Gates has warned Congress for months that its delay in passing a Defense Department budget would negatively affect the entire military, from procuring intelligence hardware wanted for the Afghanistan War to paying troops on time.
Asked for his reaction to Congress’s handling of the issue, he smiled coyly and said, "I’m not going to wade into that swamp.”