In Shutdown Congress Couldn't Live Without Paychecks; Military Could?

Government shutdownYou know what would be the worst outcome of a government shutdown? If freshmen congressmen and women, like Wisconsin Representative Sean Duffy, didn't get paid. As the Republican and former reality TV star told a constituent, he's not living high on the hog with his $174,000 salary -- that's his only paycheck! In comments that will likely outlive his good looks, the father of six said that it's only sensible that House Republicans continue to block efforts by the Senate and the House Democrats to pass a bill requiring that congressional members wouldn't be paid in the event of a shutdown."And I can guarantee you or most of you, I guarantee that I have more debt than all of you," said Duffy. "With 6 kids, I still pay off my student loans. I still pay my mortgage. I drive a used minivan." (The horror!)

As with nearly every government employee whose job keeps going when Congress hasn't been able to put aside its considerable differences and agree on a budget, staffers would keep earning money when, or if, the shutdown occurred -- they just wouldn't get a check until the deal was sorted out. This would clearly be painful for pretty-boy representatives with six kids and a used minivan payment. But would they go hungry? Would their minivans be repossessed? Would they get shut-off notices from the power and cell phone companies? Would their automatic bill-pay checks start bouncing, requiring them to cover an additional few hundred in overdraft fees while they frantically make calls to landlords and utilities, all the while bouncing a baby on the hip?

Nope. Those sacrifices are saved for the little people: you know, those who are serving 10,000 miles from home, in war zones or in jobs where they are expected to be available, mentally present, and wide awake 24/7, for the sort of pay that would probably not cover Duffy's nanny. My husband is one of them; while his pay might be sufficient for a nanny (he's a sergeant and in a war zone, so he gets paid a whopping 27% of Duffy's salary, plus meals!) it's not the sort of thing we can do without indefinitely while we wait for the Republicans to have their many, many hours on the floor telling us how they're trying to save us.

With predatory lenders and quite low incomes -- 74% make less than $31,000 a year -- making money the second-biggest stressor for military personnel -- it's quite clear that the effects would be devastating and would, to borrow the words of the Fleet Reserve Association's senior lobbyist, retired Navy Master Chief Joe Barnes, "a threat to military readiness." Not just readiness to deploy, mind you; but readiness to face each day's work in combat situations.

My husband drives generals and other military VIPs around Kuwait as part of his job; I try to keep the most stressful of our financial concerns away from him as he prepares to get on the road with his important cargo. We're lucky though, even luckier than poor Duffy, as it turns out: there's another pay check in the family that's not dependent on Congress getting along. At the worst, our cable will get cut off. (We'll live.)

But if Congress isn't dependent on Congress getting along to get paid, we all may not live. At least not, to the manner we have been accustomed. Military personnel already suffer a far-higher-than-average depression and divorce rate; it's well-known that dire financial issues contribute to both these problems. And nothing says "dire financial issues" like having your rent and electric bill checks bouncing all over the place.

Sorry, Rep. Duffy, but you don't feel the pain of your constituents, especially not the vast majority of the military personnel and other low-ranking government employees. And if you can't even go without your pay for a few days or weeks until you and the rest of Congress sort this out, how do we know you'll act with the hunger of a private's wife with a bank account balance of $-454 and no gas in her minivan's tank?

I hope the government is able to avoid a shutdown. But if it happens, I hope our representatives are at least 27% as hungry -- and as pained -- as us.
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