Lawmakers Push Bills to Keep Paying Troops Amid Shutdown

Democrats and Republicans could not find agreement to keep the government running by the Friday night deadline -- but bills were in progress today to continue to pay the military for the duration of the shutdown.

The last paychecks to service members went out on Jan. 15, and the next will come due Feb. 1. But unless lawmakers pass a complete government funding package or separate legislation to pay the military, troops will not see paychecks until after the shutdown ends, Defense officials have said.

Related: How a Government Shutdown Impacts Military Pay, Benefits

In the Senate, Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, put in a bill called the "Pay Our Military Act" to allow service members to continue to receive paychecks and related compensation over the course of the shutdown.

"This bill would make sure that all active-duty, reservists, National Guard troops, as well as any civilians and contractors working in support of those forces can do their jobs and receive their paychecks," Reed said in a statement.

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On the House side, Rep. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, also introduced legislation that would continue to pay the military and those in the Department of Homeland Security performing national security duties. Her bill would also prohibit members of Congress from receiving a paycheck during the shutdown.

Just how quickly those bills might be passed remains unclear.

Both the House and Senate returned to work today in an effort to break the funding impasse, but members immediately began blaming each other for the shutdown.

"Democrats in the United States Senate are holding government funding hostage," Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, said in a floor speech.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat and the House Minority Whip, shot back that President Donald Trump was at fault. "That is why this government is shut down," he said.

In Arizona, where he is receiving treatments for brain cancer, Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a statement blaming both sides for the shutdown:

"As Republicans and Democrats run to cable news to point fingers and assign blame, the hard reality is that all of us share responsibility for this failure. For years, under both a Republican and Democrat-controlled Congress and White House, partisanship has taken precedent over national security," he said. "Shamefully, no one will incur more harm than our brave men and women who have volunteered to fight and die for our freedom," McCain said.

During the previous shutdown in 2013, which lasted 16 days, Congress passed an emergency bill to continue paying service members, but death gratuity payments for Gold Star families were cut off, forcing the Defense Department to rely on charitable contributions.

The current shutdown began at midnight Friday when Congress failed to reach agreement on a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government in operation until Feb. 16 in an effort to arrive at a budget deal that would fund the military in Fiscal Year 2018 at nearly $700 billion.

The House had passed a CR to keep the government open until Feb. 16, but Republicans lacked the momentum to pass a similar measure in the Senate, where 60 votes were needed.

On Friday, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said that there was a "really good chance" of finding a solution before government offices open Monday.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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