EDITORIAL: Debt diversion over troop pay

Bill would take away president’s use of military paychecks as leverage

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House Republicans announced a short-term fix for the debt ceiling. Brand-new legislation that goes before the Rules Committee on Tuesday would put off the discussion until May 19, allowing the president to borrow unlimited funds until then. The simple, five-page bill offers only one extraneous provision that would deny members of Congress their paychecks until they enact a budget. As symbolism goes, that’s a great first start. Yet if the GOP wants to really get the upper hand in the debate on fiscal responsibility, it must do one more thing: Ensure the troops get their paychecks.

Mr. Obama will come out on top of debt negotiations as long as he’s able to use members of the armed forces as human shields. He will use his podium and teleprompter to relate sad tales of the economic calamities that will befall the nation should Congress take a stand against raising the federal government’s $16.4 trillion borrowing limit. “We might not be able to pay our troops” remains Mr. Obama’s most powerful weapon in his budgetary arsenal.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, wants to disarm the president. The California Republican has legislation that would guarantee all military personnel, in addition to support personnel serving in combat zones, will be paid in the event the debt ceiling is reached or there is a lapse in federal appropriations. “There are men and women in Afghanistan right now, putting their lives on the line every second of every day, and they deserve every ounce of support and assurance we can provide,” said Mr. Hunter, who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bill is not strictly necessary, as the president has wide latitude when it comes to budgetary decisions. Failure to raise the debt limit does not, in fact, put the nation in default on its obligations. The Treasury Department has more than enough money to pay our troops and pay the interest on our debt. If Congress refused to raise the debt limit, the Treasury’s spending would be limited by revenue arriving at the Treasury. The government is spending $3.8 trillion on revenue of $2.5 trillion, so it would have to make hard choices on about a third of what it currently spends. A little forced austerity wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

The president is duty-bound to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States. As commander in chief under Article II Section II of the Constitution, the president also has a special obligation to the troops, especially when it comes to defending their interests. “He’s as much a representative of the military as he is the highest authority,” Mr. Hunter tells The Washington Times. The only way our debt obligations would not be met or our troops would not be paid would be if the president deliberately chose not to make those payments. Congress can ensure that doesn’t happen, and, more importantly, that the troops are no longer used as a rhetorical tool to defend big spending.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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