Policy

Democrats Will Support Military Pay Bill — but not Without Pause

 Cleaver complained the military pay bill would be unfair to civilian defense employees. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Democrats are likely to support a stand-alone bill to cover military paychecks in the event of a government shutdown, but they say they will do so with serious reservations about the way Republicans crafted the measure.

The bill, which will be considered on the House floor Saturday night before votes to amend a Senate-passed continuing resolution, would ensure that all members of the armed services get paid if there is a sudden lapse in appropriations.

It also would allow some defense contractors to receive paychecks — but it appears to exclude civilian employees of the Defense Department who are not considered essential to supporting uniformed service members.

"Talk about the unfairness," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., emerging from a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting on Saturday evening. "You have a military person sitting at one desk and a civilian sitting at [another] desk, and the civilian is not getting paid."

Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., gave a presentation to the members assembled in which he urged them to vote for the bill. Cleaver said Hoyer told lawmakers "about the two funerals he just spoke at today and yesterday from people who were killed" in the shooting at the Navy Yard nearly two weeks ago.

In talking about the Navy Yard victims, Hoyer "was just saying some of them were civilians," Cleaver noted.

Other members — Rep. James P. Moran chief among them — said the bill doesn't address funding for all the other needs service members demand.

"That's only a matter of paying their salaries after they have been in combat, but you're sending them into combat unprotected," said the Virginia Democrat, whose district is home to a sizable portion of federal employees. "Ten percent of the expenses in Afghanistan is for military compensation, but 90 percent is to pay for their food and their fuel, their ammunition, their equipment, their supplies and none of that is paid for because it all comes under operations and maintenance which expires on Sept. 30, on Monday."

And then there were those who were troubled by the message it was sending, pointing out that the inclusion of the military pay bill as one of the measures up for votes on Saturday night was clear indication that Republicans expected the government to shut down.

"I think they're showing their hand, and it's unfortunate, because it's not just our military personnel who will be hurt by the government shutdown," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., at a news conference after the meeting's conclusion. "The shameful part of it is that Republicans are essentially telegraphing that they intend to shut down the government, and the only folks they are going to worry about, with the government shutdown, are the military personnel."