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In a government shutdown, who will pay US military?

US military operations from Afghanistan to Japan will continue even if there is a government shutdown, Pentagon officials say. What they don't know is whether troops will get paychecks.

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It's “a pretty good indicator of how they are willing to play politics,” he says, adding that the move is not unique to the Obama administration. “It’s the usual executive branch bid: ‘If you cut my budget proposal, babies will die.’ ”

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US troop pay is “a stick that they can try to beat the opposition with,” Mr. Donnelly says.

Ultimately, the political impact of a showdown is “a little unclear,” but he notes that accusations that either party has harmed troops would not be in anyone’s interest.

Republican lawmakers, for their part, have been making a concerted effort to downplay the notion that troops may not get paid.

House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday suggested that Congress should pass another continuing resolution that would keep the government open for at least another week and fund the Department of Defense through the rest of the fiscal year.

Even without such a measure, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said, “I think we’ll keep men and women of the military paid.”

Senator McCain, speaking at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters Wednesday, cited the Food and Forage Act of 1861, which permits the government to buy “clothing, subsistence, forage, fuel, quarters, transportation, or medical and hospital supplies” for troops.

Enacted during the Civil War, the law was also used in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

In a further effort to address the issue, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R) of Texas on Wednesday introduced the Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act of 2011. The bill would ensure that soldiers get paid in the event of a government shutdown.

“I am not willing to place the well-being of our military personnel and their families in the balance as we await a budget agreement,” Senator Hutchinson said in a statement.

For now, however, troop pay remains wrapped up in a “game of chicken,” Donnelly adds, “that is going to go on until the very last moment.”

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