If the U.S. defaults on its loans, the Defense Department may not be able to pay troops or millions of other beneficiaries, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned Wednesday.

Since reaching the allowable limit for debt back in July, Congress has not been able to reach a deal to raise the so-called debt ceiling, which would allow the U.S. to not only continue paying those debts, but funding the rest of the government.

“If the United States defaults, it would undermine the economic strength on which our national security rests,” Austin wrote in a statement. “It would also seriously harm our service members and their families because, as Secretary, I would have no authority or ability to ensure that our service members, civilians, or contractors would be paid in full or on time.”

On top of current service members, DoD also wouldn’t be able to pay 2.4 million retirees, 400,000 Gold Star families and thousands of federal contractors, he added.

The U.S. is due to run out of cash reserves on Oct. 18.

Generally a routine vote, Republican lawmakers have held a debt limit deal hostage this year, refusing to vote to raise it as a show of opposition President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

Congress very narrowly avoided a full government shutdown, over those same partisan issues, at the end of September with a funding bill through December as a placeholder for a full budget.

In previous years, lawmakers have continued to fund military pay through shutdowns, but there is no precedent for keeping payroll going amid a default.

“Our service members and Department of Defense civilians live up to their commitments,” Austin wrote. “My hope is that, as a nation, we will come together to ensure we meet our obligations to them, without delay or disruption.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT

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