The Defense Department was preparing guidance Thursday on what will happen during a prolonged government shutdown to re-enlistment bonuses, tuition assistance and the scores of incentive pay programs for servicemembers, including combat pay for the 54,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials said the guidance was meant to clear up the confusion left by the Pay Our Military Act, passed in haste by Congress and signed by President Obama as the deadline for the shutdown approached Monday.
The officials declined to give an estimate on when the guidance might be ready. In past instances of delays in pay and bonuses, the practice has been to make the payments retroactively.
The legislation on pay provided for the continuation of basic pay and housing allowances but left unclear whether incentive pay, enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses, tuition assistance and other programs could be affected, Pentagon officials said.
House and Senate Republican leaders stressed that the intent of the Pay Our Military Act was to cover all matters of pay, allowances and benefits.
"Congress has given them the power they need to do that," said a spokesman for Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "We meant all pay" in passing the Pay Our Military Act, the spokesman said.
In a statement, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the language of the bill "should be interpreted to the broadest extent possible" to ensure that incentive and bonus programs continue.
"My staff and I have been in contact with the Department of Defense urging immediate issuance of new guidance to pay our men and women in uniform, as well as the civilians and contractors who support them, during a government shutdown," Inhofe said.
The difficulty appeared to be in whether the Treasury Department, facing the government shutdown and the looming possibility of going into default on raising the debt level in mid-October, would have the funding to provide DoD with the means to continue programs beyond basic pay and housing allowances for the military.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned Thursday of the wide-ranging impacts on the economy in the event that Congress fails to approve raising the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by Oct. 17 to avoid a potential default on the U.S. debt.
According to DFAS, re-enlistment bonuses can range up to a maximum of $90,000 for critical military specialities for a three-year re-enlistment. The maximum payout for an enlistment bonus is $40,000.
Hazardous duty, or imminent danger, pay for the troops in Afghanistan is currently $7.50 daily to a maximum of $225 a monthiumhas been pay.
The various incentive pays include the Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus of $12,000 and the Nuclear Officer Accession Bonus of up to $30,000, meant to encourage officers to join the military's nuclear power community, according to DFAS.