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Note to Congress: Don't play with military pay

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Editorial: April 14, 2011

The issue: Government shutdown
Our view: Military pay should be off limits

As a budget stalemate created the threat of a shutdown last week, the federal government’s overriding influence in modern American life became all too obvious.
The conflict in Congress threatened home loans and education, health care and law enforcement, tourist attractions and most everything in between.

The most startling aspect: A country at war would be unable to pay its fighting men and women.

That is unacceptable.

Differences of opinion can create a barrier to action. At its very best, the legislative process is a delicate dance of agreement, compromise and debate.

While it has a time-honored leadership system, Congress has no authoritative structure like the common workplace. It is a collective of equals – an association of charismatic individuals with egos and opinions as well formed as their speaking skills. Each one possesses a single vote and unique constituency to represent.

Philosophical disagreements deserve to be aired, particularly in a country whose most precious quality is freedom. Sometimes to move from discussion to decision requires the pressure of a deadline. As the government shutdown loomed, a high-stakes game of chicken played out.

While $39 billion in spending reductions eventually resolved the matter, a great deal of stress preceded agreement. And the tensions were not confined to Capitol Hill.

U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen stationed across the globe were confronted with the possibility of delayed pay. Young men and women placed in harm’s way never should be asked to wait for their paychecks.

Fighting a war against terror in remote corners of Iraq and Afghanistan is not the time to be fretting over mortgage payments and credit card statements back home. Spouses and children should not have to worry about having enough money to go to the commissary or even if the commissary will be open because of a budget battle.

Whether its carrying out daily duties at Fort Knox, flying missions in the skies over Libya, serving on the ground in a foreign land or aboard a ship at sea, the military deserves to be paid.

This needs to be resolved.

Before our nation’s senators and representatives confront the next collision of opinions over the debt limit, a budget extension or some life-or-death impasse, Congress must commit itself to serving service men and women.

Military pay must be exempt from the whims of political uncertainty. This is a matter deserving of unanimous support.

The answer is as clear as the preamble to the U.S. Constitution: Government must “provide for the common defense.” This is the central element of the federal government’s very mission and paying the military is central to that objective.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.