The political drama over a possible government shutdown last week caused quite a lot of anxiety among service members and their families because of the likely delay such a shutdown would cause in receiving their bi-weekly paychecks. The fact that this was even an issue is an embarrassing stain on our politics, and it should not happen again.
The budget battles will inevitably continue. Last Friday’s near-midnight deal only extended government funding for one week – ostensibly enough time to work out a deal on the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. In addition to the battle to finish out the budget for this fiscal year, now is about the time when the battle normally begins raging for the next fiscal year’s budget. And as soon as the FY2011 budget battle ends (if it ends), the FY2012 budget battle will begin.
So the partisan wrangling over budgetary issues will continue for the foreseeable future, but what should not continue is the uncertainty surrounding the defense budget. But even if Congress cannot agree on an overall defense budget, which is often one of the less contentious areas of the budget battles, funding for troop pay can and should be settled immediately and should not be held hostage again to partisan wrangling over other issues.
Service members and their families have enough to worry about. They already get paid squat. They have endured previously unfathomable numbers of deployments and family separations. The suicide rates have skyrocketed and marital problems are rampant. Some of these issues require long-term attention and don’t have any quick fixes. But no one would argue that these men and women should not get paid on time, or that they should be be used as political pawns during the overall budget process.
This issue – the issue of military pay – can have a quick fix. Tackle the part of the budget that ensures that these men and women get the money they’re owed on time, and return to the squabbling over other issues after that’s done.