The politics of acting responsibly, in case there is a shutdown

With the federal government’s funding set to run out in less than a week, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pushed proposals they say would allow the government to act responsibly in case of a shutdown.

But don’t think that means those officials are throwing politics out the window, even as they discuss issues like military and lawmaker pay.

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On Friday, a group of House Republicans touting legislation that would ensure military personnel get paid during a shutdown took turns bashing Democrats’ approach to the budget – even as they said they were working to guarantee that service members were not used as political bargaining chips in that debate.

“Because of inaction by the White House and the Senate, there’s a possibility that there would be a government shutdown,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), one of the bill’s backers. “And we believe the last signal we want to send to men and women in combat is, while you’re out fighting the bad guys around the globe, political games are keeping your salary from being paid to you.”

Elsewhere on Friday, the House approved a largely symbolic bill on spending that, while expected to go nowhere in the Senate, included provisions cutting off pay for lawmakers and the president during a shutdown. Rep. Jim Moran and other Democrats had pushed House GOP leaders this week to vote on a stand-alone bill on lawmaker pay.

Policymakers on both sides of the aisle are stressing that they want to avoid a shutdown. Budget negotiations continued over the weekend, with Republicans and Democrats reportedly talking about adding an additional $23 billion to the $10 billion in cuts already enacted.

Still, Republicans in the chamber are pressing forward with their military pay bill, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) maintaining that no deal has been reached.

The office of Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who introduced the measure, said it would ensure that service members get paid on time during a shutdown.

Military personnel are deemed essential, so they would remain on duty if the government did close up shop. But under current law, Gohmert’s office said, they would not be paid until a shutdown was over.

During President Clinton’s first term, a separately passed defense appropriations bill allowed service members to get paid during the longer of the two government shutdowns. The other did not last long enough for military pay to be affected.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said Friday that he had told GOP leaders that he was going to press to move the measure forward, with the government currently only funded through Friday. The bill has already garnered more than 50 co-sponsors in the House, including four Democrats, since being introduced Thursday.

But as of now, the legislation does not appear on a House schedule for this week, circulated by the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and a Boehner spokesman indicated that top GOP officials were pressing to make the military measure unnecessary, at least for this year.

“Our goal is to avoid a shutdown – though some Washington Democrats are rooting for one, assuming that they will benefit politically,” said Michael Steel, the spokesman.

Speaking of Democrats, Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and around 15 others wrote to Boehner on Wednesday, requesting a vote on a stand-alone lawmaker pay bill.

Boxer and Casey sponsored Senate legislation on the issue, which would not have allowed lawmakers and the president to be paid retroactively after a shutdown and passed by unanimous consent in early March. (Moran has pushed for a House version of that bill.)

“Since members of your caucus are openly predicting a government shutdown, the time to pass this bill is now,” the senators wrote to the House speaker. “Members who want to shutdown the government should not continue to receive a paycheck while the rest of the nation suffers the consequences.”

As The Washington Post reported Friday, there was some debate over whether the separate pay bill was constitutional – with the White House saying it wasn’t.

Even so, Moran acknowledged that part of the motivation for his push was to make a point politically. “That’s kind of our job,” he told The Hill.

And, while they stressed their goal was to remove the military from the partisan discussion, the Republicans pushing the service member bill wouldn’t seem to disagree about the role of politics in the shutdown discussion.

“We want to take our military off the table as being used as a political lever,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Friday. “We know there will be many other items used as a political lever. That’s the nature of this. It is politics, after all. But let’s exempt our military.”


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