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Congress wrestles over shutdown, military pay

Apr. 7, 2011 - 10:01AM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 7, 2011 - 10:01AM  |  
House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speak to reporters April 6 after meeting with President Obama at the White House to discuss the budget impasse and potential government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speak to reporters April 6 after meeting with President Obama at the White House to discuss the budget impasse and potential government shutdown. (Charles Dharapak / The Associated Press)
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In a display of political theater but not necessarily progress, the House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would fully fund the Defense Department for the rest of this fiscal year — eliminating any threat of delayed military pay — and would also keep the rest of the government funded for another week.

But the bill, HR 1363, already has been rejected by Senate leaders because poison-pill riders have been attached to the measure that are unacceptable to many Democrats — such as preventing the District of Columbia from spending its own money on abortions — and because Democrats don't want to separate the Defense Department from the rest of the federal budget out of concern such a move might make it even harder to get an complete federal funding agreement.

House passage of HR 1363 helps Republican leaders in the House point blame at the President Obama and Senate Democrats for a government shutdown, if that happens at midnight Friday when temporary funding expires.

There could be an 11th-hour — or more likely 13th-hour — effort to ensure military members will be paid and paid on time in a shutdown. Congressional leaders have been reluctant to schedule votes on House and Senate bills exempting the military from pay delays because passing the bills would be an admission of failure on avoiding a shutdown.

High-level talks continue between House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., trying to reach a spending agreement to avoid a shutdown. Both sides have reported progress, but they have been unable to compromise on key details.

There is strong and growing bipartisan sentiment to protect service members from any pay interruption, but legislation that would protect them is unlikely to be brought up before it is clear that a shutdown will happen, according to congressional aides working on the legislation. That means a vote, at least a final vote, wouldn't come until just before or just after midnight on Friday.

Under plans described Wednesday by the White House's Office of Management and Budget, service members and essential civilian employees will be required to report to work in a shutdown but will not be paid until funding is restored. As a result, pay on April 15 — the next military payday — could be for only one week of pay instead of the normal two if the shutdown extends past that date.

Obama administration and Defense Department officials said service members will receive full back pay on the first pay day after funding is restored.

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