The U.S. Navy will run out of money to pay civilian employees and might have to start furloughing them in mid-August if Congress doesn't approve a supplemental war-funding bill that includes $33.5 billion for the military, Navy Undersecretary Robert Work told the House Armed Services Committee July 22.
About a month after that, the Air Force may run out of money to pay the pilots who are flying combat missions over Afghanistan, warned Air Force Undersecretary Erin Conaton.
Soldiers will still get paid, said Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal, but civilian Army employees may not.
The problem is that the war-funding bill the Pentagon hoped Congress would pass before its July 4 recess still hasn't passed as the August recess approaches.
In May, the Senate passed a $59 billion bill that included $33.5 billion for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And earlier in July, the House passed the Senate's bill but added $22.8 billion to pay for domestic programs, including $10 billion to preserve teachers' jobs in cash-strapped states.
The House then sent its $81 billion bill back to the Senate, where it sits while senators squabble over the added domestic spending that Senate Republicans oppose.
During a July 22 hearing on Pentagon management reforms, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., warned of a looming "crisis in light of congressional delay in passing a clean wartime supplemental spending measure."
He blamed his House colleagues for adding "extraneous domestic spending" to the war-funding bill, and asked Pentagon witnesses to describe the impending impact of the funding delay.
Westphal said that if the Army doesn't get the supplemental money soon, Army operations and maintenance accounts will begin to run dry in mid-August. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq won't be affected, he said, but training, equipment maintenance and other activity on bases in the United States could be curtailed, he said.
The Navy will run out of money to pay civilians and may have to order unpaid furloughs beginning in mid-August, Work said. If the funding bill isn't passed by mid-September, the Navy will also run out of money to pay active-duty sailors, he said.
For the Air Force, operations and maintenance money will begin to run out at the end of August, and accounts for paying airmen will begin to run dry during the third week of September, Conaton told McKeon.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., asked, "Are we really looking at not paying" troops who are fighting the wars?" Westphal assured him that soldiers will get paid. "What we're concerned about is civilians."
Work and Conaton said that Navy and Air Force uniformed personnel might, indeed, encounter pay problems late in September.
That sounds scary, but it's not likely. Legislation passed 150 years ago ensures that troops won't go unpaid. The Feed and Forage Act of 1861 allows the government to pay for essential national security expenses, including pay for troops, even without an appropriation passed by Congress.
Separately, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, urged the Senate in a July 19 letter to pass a supplemental funding bill as soon as possible.
He said a bill should be "constructed so that it can obtain broad, bi-partisan support" in the Senate.
Skelton acknowledged that the Senate has already done that once, when it passed the $59 billion bill that the House pumped up to $81 billion. Nonetheless, he urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to try again.