With pending shutdown deal, servicemembers could avoid impact on pay

The U.S. Capitol.


By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 22, 2018

WASHINGTON — As lawmakers seemed poised to approve a deal Monday to break their impasse that precipitated a federal government shutdown, servicemembers will likely see little impact to their paychecks and other concerns.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill appeared ready to resume talks to address long-running obstacles, from immigration plans to military funding instability.

“The work must go on,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday on the Senate floor in announcing the framework of a new temporary funding deal.

The military, along with the rest of the government, has operated off several short-term funding bills since the 2018 fiscal year started Oct. 1. It’s become a common practice for Congress to rely on the continuing resolutions until a full budget is approved.

But without a deal in place by the expiration of the latest funding plan on Friday, a shutdown was triggered Saturday. Senate Democrats, who are needed to approve the plan, were demanding a fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

As a result, the government began efforts to shut down Saturday, triggering a disruption to federal operations and services. But many of the harshest impacts for the military might have been averted with Monday’s potential deal.

For example, since servicemembers were already slated to collect their checks Friday, the government work stoppage appeared to threaten pay only after this week.

Under the shutdown, the military’s estimated 1.3 million active-duty servicemembers were expected to report for duty as usual. But a plan proposed on Capitol Hill over the weekend to pay servicemembers had the shutdown continued was rejected.

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence, in a visit with troops near the Syrian border, accused Democrats of playing politics with military pay.

Democrats said the opposite.

“Now, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, they are refusing to bring up measures to protect our troops,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in a statement Monday. “That is hardly the best way to put our servicemembers first.”

A 16-day shutdown in October 2013 caused a rash of military programs to come to a sudden halt, including pay stoppage for military and civilian personnel and the disruption of base services such as commissaries. In addition, death gratuity payments for 30 Gold Star families were also disrupted.

That year, Congress quickly passed a bill, the Pay Our Military Act, so military personnel could receive pay, but the timing wasn’t clear.

“President [Barack] Obama signed the Pay Our Military Act on the last day of the fiscal year, so there was no lapse,” Lauren Fish, a defense strategies research associate for the Washington think tank, Center for a New American Security, said of the previous effort. But “confusion in 2013 resulted from unclear guidance about who was going to process those payments.”

Similar proposals were introduced in recent days but failed to get traction. It’s possible if another shutdown becomes a threat when a new temporary funding plan expires, which could come Feb. 8, that lawmakers will be closer to coming up with a pay plan for the military even if there is a work stoppage.

“I think many members [of Congress] thought they could come to an agreement over the weekend, so these steps wouldn’t be necessary,” Fish said. With the shutdown resolved Monday, “it will be a non-issue.”

Twitter: @cgrisales

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