Troubles loom for some military pay

The Army's No. 2 civilian on Thursday assured the House Armed Services Committee that the service will continue to pay soldiers, regardless of when Congress approves the fiscal supplemental spending bill needed to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They will get paid," Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal said when asked at a committee hearing if troops - particularly those deployed overseas -- will continue to receive paychecks in the absence of a supplemental.

"What we're concerned about is many [in] our civilian workforce," Westphal said.

But the outlook for the Air Force and Navy is worse, with officials warning at the hearing that their military personnel accounts will run out of funds in September if lawmakers fail to pass the supplemental by then.

For the Air Force, military pay would be affected if the supplemental is not approved by the third week in September, said Air Force Undersecretary Erin Conaton.

Bob Work, the Navy's second-highest civilian official, laid out a similar time line for his force, adding that the Pentagon will "shift into an emergency mode" if Congress does not pass the supplemental soon.

"From our perspective, it would be a very great burden on the ... Department of Defense as a whole" if Congress does not approve the supplemental before leaving for the August recess, Work said.

The supplemental includes $33.5 billion for the military to cover war-related costs, counterterrorism efforts and the response to the January earthquake in Haiti.

For its part, the Army has sent to Capitol Hill several requests to reprogram fiscal 2010 funding in the event that Congress does not move quickly on the supplemental, Westphal said, adding that service officials hope they will not have to implement those stopgap measures.

Conaton, who previously served as the committee's staff director, said the Air Force could ask to reprogram funds to pay its more urgent bills. But she acknowledged that doing so "wouldn't buy very much time."

All three services signaled that they would have to furlough civilians in the coming weeks. Westphal indicated that the services will soon need to provide the required advance notice to civilians that the department may not be able to pay them.

"We are either passed or dangerously close to those deadlines," he said.

The Senate could hold a cloture vote as early as this week on the House-passed supplemental, which contains $22.8 billion to avert teacher layoffs and for other domestic funding that Republicans oppose attaching to the war-funding bill.

The cloture vote is expected to fail, paving the way for the Senate to approve a supplemental devoid of the domestic funding. The House, which plans to leave for the August recess next week, would then have to vote on the Senate's measure before sending it to the president's desk for signing.

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