May 6 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Army won’t be able to pay soldiers beyond June 15 unless Congress approves $108 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or authorizes a funds transfer, a Defense Department official said.
If the supplemental spending legislation isn’t enacted by then, the Pentagon will be forced to seek congressional authority to use money designated for other services to fund the Army payroll, department spokesman Geoff Morrell said.
Pentagon budget officials briefed congressional staffers about the funding crunch earlier today, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed the issue in a letter to lawmakers yesterday, Morrell said at a Pentagon briefing.
“He is taking members, leaders, at their word that they will have this bit of business done by Memorial Day,” Morrell said. At the same time, Gates asked his budget personnel “to begin contingency planning for the possibility that the Congress does not meet its goal of passing a budget bill the president can sign” by that date.
If the measure isn’t approved, Morrell said, the accounts that fund military operations and equipment maintenance would last a little longer than the Army payroll account, “but not much more.”
The Army’s base pay rates range from $1,239.90 a month for an entry-level recruit to $16,475.70 a month for a four-star general with more than 34 years of service, according to the U.S. military’s 2008 pay chart.
Morrell’s warning echoes a similar one issued by the Pentagon last fall when Congress was considering a $70 billion spending authorization for Iraq and Afghanistan.
In November, Gates directed the military service chiefs to draw up plans for furloughing about 200,000 civilian employees and contractors if Congress failed to enact the spending measure.
The legislation was approved in December, and the furlough notices weren’t necessary.
Then, as now, the war funding was caught up in a dispute between President George W. Bush and Congress’s Democratic leaders over whether to withdraw more troops from Iraq.
Last Updated: May 6, 2008 17:44 EDT
By Ken Fireman