04.07.11

Statement Of Senator Leahy On The Effects Of A Government Shutdown On U.S. Troops

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Mr. President, I would like to take a moment to describe to the American people and members of both bodies of Congress what will happen to our troops and their families if a collapse of budget negotiations forces the government to shut down.

While I am sure many understand that most government services will halt, it is also important to understand that some government operations will not shut down.  In particular, our men and women on active duty and in the National Guard and Reserves will continue to serve and to do so without pay.  At a time when we ask them to fight two wars, to help stay the slaughter in Libya, and to keep peace around the world, another burden would be added to their shoulders:  They would be asked to do it without a paycheck.

Some of those in our armed forces do not have savings to fall back on during hard times.  Like many Americans, some of those who serve in our military live paycheck to paycheck and depend on their pay each month to put food on the table and keep a roof over their families' heads.  Certainly, mortgage lenders are not known for accepting excuses when the monthly payments come due.  But excuses are all that some members of Congress can offer for why they will not come to the table and make sure our men and women in uniform get the pay they have earned.     

It is especially disturbing that the hard times that now are in prospect for our troops have been completely avoidable.  The possibility of a government shutdown is very real because a relative few are willing to play politics and brinksmanship at a time when the public wants basic, unadorned statesmanship.  The American people want Congress to do its job, and that certainly is not too much to ask.  Those who are insisting on their way or no way should pause to reflect on what their intransigence means to our troops and their families, and in fact to every American.

The decision to put politics ahead of the American people is reckless and imposes real hardships on real people.  It is crueler still knowing that some of our troops, already facing fears of death or injury and sleepless nights in forward operating bases, must now add paying the electric bill and feeding their families to their list of daily worries.  Naturally I worry especially for the Vermont National Guard troops who are currently forward-deployed to locations around the world and who may face these very fears.  In shutting down the government, an ideologically motivated faction in Congress is willing to breach our most fundamental pact with these men and women.  We have always said, “Protect our nation overseas, and we will protect your loved ones at home.”  Who can justify violating that pact with the men and women in uniform?

Some in Congress already are seeking cover, claiming they have put forward plans to fund the Pentagon and our troops.  But of course even these transparent political ploys would not pay many of our intelligence personnel, our brave and dedicated forward-deployed consular staff and officers and others -- many of whom work side-by-side with our troops.  Not to mention the vast number of individuals working in communities across the Nation to support our overseas operations.  Every one of these dedicated public servants, and every one of our troops, deserves to be paid for a day’s work.

Our troops and their families have enough to worry about without needlessly being pushed to the brink of a costly government shutdown.

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