By Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Representative Louie Gohmert
Washington - Under current law, if a budget impasse prevents Congress and the White House from funding the government, and a government shutdown occurs, our men and women in uniform would not be assured of being paid. They would continue to perform their patriotic duties and, in many cases, put their lives on the line for our country. But their paychecks would be in limbo until Congress and the president could agree on how to fund the government.
This is unacceptable. The last thing our military families should worry about is not receiving their paychecks on time because Congress and the President have not been able to make the tough choices on the nation's finances.
Last April, when we were facing the threat of a government shutdown, Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX-01) and I introduced the Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act. Our simple and straightforward legislation ensures that, in the event of a government shutdown over budget issues, our nation's servicemen and women would continue to receive their pay on time and in full.
Immediately after introducing this bill, I was contacted by a military spouse. Her husband was on his tenth deployment in support of operations in the Middle East, while she remained at home raising their 1-year-old son. She had read the news about a possible government shutdown. In addition to her constant worry about her husband's safety, she was very concerned about keeping up with family bills without her husband's military paycheck.
This military spouse's worries are shared by hundreds of thousands of military families across our country, many of whom have loved ones in harm's way. Even the threat of an interruption of pay is stressful for military families that depend on timely paychecks to make ends meet.
At a time when our nation has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and more than 45,000 in Iraq, it is unconscionable that we would ask our troops to serve on the front lines without being paid on time. From the state of Texas alone, there are more than 28,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have been deployed, second only to California in the highest number of deployed troops from one state.
These brave Americans are working long hours, often in hostile conditions and facing a vicious enemy. The most remarkable thing about these citizens is they all raised their right hands and volunteered to serve our country. It would be tremendously damaging for morale to tell our troops to go on long deployments, away from their families, and then not pay them.
This year's budget battles in Washington, D.C. foreshadow years of recurring debate and tough choices in order to rein in runaway government spending. But putting our nation's finances back in order should never come at the expense of military families' financial security.
The Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act has overwhelming support: our bill has 80 cosponsors in the U.S. Senate and 201 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. Enacting this legislation should be the first order of business when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day. Delaying action until a government shutdown is again threatened would be shameful.
Our troops should never have a moment of worry about receiving timely paychecks. They are risking their lives, spending weeks, months and even years, away from their loved ones. The very least Congress and America can do is ensure that they are able to take care of their loved ones who are waiting for their safe return home.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, is the senior U.S. senator from Texas. Congressman Louie Gohmert, also a Republican, represents the first district of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.