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Military salaries may be skipped or delayed if US defaults on debt

If the U.S. defauts on its debt obligations, it will affect all Americans, including members of the military who depend on the government for pay.
Posted at 4:03 PM, May 19, 2023

A fight in Washington over the national debt could be felt by U.S. service members worldwide if the country defaults.

"We will not in some cases be able to pay our troops with any degree of predictability. That predictability is really, really important to us," said Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III. "This would have a real impact on the pockets of our troops and civilians."

The impasse between Democrats, who want to raise the debt limit, and Republicans, who want to cut spending before agreeing to raise the limit, has left the military feeling caught in the middle.

With no agreement, the country could default on its bills, including meeting the military payroll — at least on time. The Treasury could decide who gets paid, and the military, with 1.3 million active-duty members, is a big commitment of funds.

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the U.S. needs to cover $4 billion in military salaries on June 15. That's money not only to support soldiers, sailors and marines but their families as well.

Two weeks earlier on June 1, the bill is $12 billion for veterans' benefits and another $12 billion for military and civil retirement.

People pass the front of the New York Stock Exchange.

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Concern over a possible default is expected to intensify in the coming weeks as Congress debates raising the U.S. debt ceiling.


"Certainly it would impact our reputation," Austin said. "We are known for being very dependable, paying our bills on time and a source of stability globally."

Not only are salaries at stake, leaders say the overall military spending — about $2.3 billion a day — is essential to national security. That includes paying contractors and vendors.

"Let me make one comment on the default piece: China right now describes us in open speeches as a declining power. A default on the debt would only reinforce that and embolden China and increase risk to the United States," said Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Skipped or late paychecks would be a hardship for many in the military.

Shannon Razsadin serves as executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network, and her husband is in the Navy. She says some of the lower-ranked members are already facing struggles covering the bills.

"We're seeing families having a hard time making ends meet," Razsadin said. "They're having a hard time seeking out the support. They're experiencing an incredible housing cost burden too, and some of the allowances and things like that that are in place just have not kept up with the current landscape and the cost of living."