Another budget stalemate in the nation’s capital could result in crimped paychecks for tens of thousands of troops and civilians at Joint Base Lewis-McChord beginning next week unless lawmakers avert a government shutdown.
The South Sound’s military-related workforce is back on the edge of a potential loss in pay, because Congress has not passed a budget to keep the government running beyond the start of the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Pentagon spokesman George Little on Monday told reporters that the Defense Department would keep its doors open through a shutdown, but that its employees likely would face a temporary loss in pay, according to a report in Stars and Stripes.
Military service members in uniform would go to work without being paid. Their retroactive pay would be restored once Congress writes a budget or passes a temporary measure to fund the government
“They may not be paid on their regular payday,” Little said, according to The Hill newspaper.
Defense Department civilian employees would face another hurdle: Some could be placed on furloughs, while others might work without pay. It would take a separate act of Congress to restore pay they might lose during a shutdown, Little said.
“A lapse in appropriations would mean that DOD civilian personnel would not be automatically entitled to retroactive pay, and that a subsequent act by Congress would need to restore that pay,” Little said.
Lewis-McChord is the South Sound’s largest employer with a workforce that includes almost 16,000 civilian employees and contractors and more than 40,000 active-duty and Reserve military service members.
So far, the shutdown talk in Washington, D.C., has not reached the Lewis-McChord headquarters that manages the base.
“At this point, we have not been directed to develop a shutdown plan,” base spokesman Joe Kubistek said.
More than 10,000 Lewis-McChord civilian employees already have had to take six unpaid days off over the summer through a Pentagon plan to cut spending because of the forced federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
The latest impasse more closely resembles an April 2011 standoff. Military service members braced to get by without paychecks at that time, but lawmakers averted a shutdown with an 11th-hour deal.
This time, Congress must pass a resolution to fund the government by next week. The Republican-led House of Representatives last week passed a measure that keeps the government running but strips funding for the Affordable Care Act.
The House resolution is on its way to the Senate, where leaders of the Democratic-controlled chamber have said they would refuse to defund the health care reform measure. The Senate is expected to pass a resolution that would fund that law and send it back to the House.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable that a handful of extreme members of Congress are willing to shut down the government and delay or even cut pay for military and civilian employees simply to make a partisan point about health care reform,” said Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Senate budget committee.Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com