Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security

Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security
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Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOklahoma sues to exempt National Guard from Pentagon vaccine mandate Overnight Defense & National Security — Quick vote on defense bill blocked again Marine Corps say 92 percent of active-duty service members vaccinated as deadline passes MORE, along with seven former Pentagon chiefs, on Wednesday warned Congress that a debt default would damage U.S. national security and harm military families.

“If the United States defaults, it would undermine the economic strength on which our national security rests,” Austin said 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.”

In a separate letter sent to Congress on Wednesday, six former Defense secretaries make the same plea, beseeching lawmakers “to work together to raise the statutory debt limit and avoid catastrophic consequences for the Defense Department, our military families, and our position of leadership in the world.”

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Former Vice President Dick Cheney, William Perry, William Cohen, Leon Panetta, Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE, Aston Carter and James MattisJames Norman Mattis The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE signed the letter.

The U.S. reached its federal borrowing limit in July, with Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenYellen: Omicron 'could cause significant problems' for global economy Real relief from high gas prices House sets up Senate shutdown showdown MORE warning leadership that they need to raise it by Oct. 18 or risk a historic default. 

Republicans have vowed to not provide votes to raise the debt ceiling, leaving Senate Democrats scrambling to come up with a backup plan.

Though the debt limit covers spending Congress has already approved, Austin cites several risks related to a default, including risking the benefits “earned by and owed to 2.4 million military retirees and 400,000 survivors.”

In addition, "federal contractors, including large firms and thousands of small businesses, that provide our military with world-class services, technology, and equipment could have their payments delayed, jeopardizing their operations and many American jobs.”

Austin also said a default “risks undermining the international reputation of the United States as a reliable and trustworthy economic and national security partner,” as well as the “stature of the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency of choice.”

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

Similarly, the former Pentagon chiefs say if the U.S. government fails to pay 2.1 million military members “we will not have a highly capable military to fight and win the nation’s wars.” 

As for the federal contractors “who operate our military bases at home and abroad and provide service to crucial defense technologies,” a failure to pay them for work they have already been approved to undertake “could jeopardize ongoing military training and readiness.” 

They argue that Congress can avoid this outcome by agreeing “as it has roughly 80 times before – to authorize the government to pay bills it has already incurred.” 

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The former officials also argue that a default on the will send a signal to allies and adversaries “that America does not keep its word to our military forces. We can hardly think of a more damaging message in an era of global instability and the rise of great power competition.” 

“It would be tragic to allow partisanship to now deny those critical resources essential to protecting our national security,” they add.

Updated at 5:26 p.m.