No money to pay troops if debt ceiling deal isn’t reached, Defense Secretary warns

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If the United States defaults on its loans, the Defense Department may not be able to pay troops or millions of other beneficiaries, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned Wednesday.

Since reaching the authorized debt limit in July, Congress has been unable to come to an agreement to raise the so-called debt ceiling, which would allow the United States not only to continue to pay these debts, but also to finance the rest of the government.

“If the United States defaults, it would undermine the economic strength upon which our national security is built,” Austin wrote in a statement. “It would also seriously harm our military and their families because, as secretary, I would have no authority or capacity to guarantee that our military, civilians or contractors would be paid in full or on time.”

In addition to the current service members, the DoD would also not be able to pay 2.4 million retirees, 400,000 Gold Star families and thousands of federal contractors, he added.

The United States is expected to run out of cash reserves on October 18.

Typically a routine vote, Republican lawmakers have held a debt limitation deal hostage this year, refusing to vote to lift it as a demonstration of opposition President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

Congress narrowly avoided a complete government shutdown, on those same partisan issues, in late September with a December fundraising bill as the placeholder for a full budget.

In previous years, lawmakers continued to fund military pay through closings, but there is no precedent for maintaining payroll in the event of default.

“Our military and civilians in the Department of Defense are keeping their promises,” Austin wrote. “I hope that as a nation we will come together to ensure that we meet our obligations to them without delay or disruption.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at the Military Times. It covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other matters affecting the military. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT


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