Shutdown Exemption for Military Pay Becomes Law

Military pay and the pay of some federal civilians and contractors will be exempt from delay during a government shutdown, under a law signed late Monday last week by President Obama.

In one of the few agreements lawmakers have been able to reach in weeks of tense negotiations, the threat of military members, including the Coast Guard, missing their mid-October payday was resolved with a new law that appropriates whatever sum of money is needed to cover military payroll costs.

Obama signed the bill after it easily passed the House of Representatives on Sunday and the Senate early Monday afternoon.

There may be a similar effort to exempt veterans benefits from the effects of a shutdown. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced a bill Monday aimed at preventing the Veterans Affairs Department from running out of money to pay for veterans’ disability, survivor and education benefits.

Without the military pay bill, troops would work during a government shutdown and accrue pay but would not receive it until government funding is restored. The Oct. 15 payday is the first date when a shutdown could have an impact.

The bill, HR 3210, applies to pay and allowances of active-duty members, including reservists on full-time active duty, plus pay and allowances for Defense Department and Homeland Security Department civilians and contractors who are determined to be “providing support to members of the armed forces.”

Decisions about which federal workers and contractors would receive pay would be left to the defense secretary or homeland security secretary.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a former Marine Corps and Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2006, is the chief sponsor of what is being called the Pay Our Military Act.

“I fully understand the stresses that our men and women in uniform face on a day-to-day basis, particularly when we are still a nation at war,” Coffman said. “When things do not go well at home, the stress that our deployed men and women are already under is multiplied, particularly if their families go without an income and suffer financial hardships due to a government shutdown.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of the lawmakers fighting to include restrictions on health care reform in any government funding bill, said service members don’t need to be caught up in the political battle.

“The current fight in Washington is about whether or not Congress will act to protect the American people from Obamacare,” Lee said. “Our differences on that issue should not put at risk payments to our military. They should be fully funded immediately.”

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