POMA Pressure

By Sebastian Sprenger / October 4, 2013 at 7:38 PM

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey (MA) today joined several GOP lawmakers in calling on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to apply the Pay Our Military Act so that the Defense Department would essentially be exempt from the government shutdown.

"I am writing to strongly urge you to use the authority under the law to provide pay for the thousands of civilian personnel and contractors of the Department of Defense in Massachusetts and across the nation who provide support to the armed forces," Markey wrote in a letter to Hagel.

President Obama enacted the Pay Our Military Act late on Sept. 30. DOD began furloughing hundreds of thousands of civilian employees the next day, as Congress had not passed a fiscal year 2014 spending bill. House Republicans, led by Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers, have made repealing or delaying the Affordable Care Act a precondition for passing a continuing resolution. Democrats are pressing for a spending bill free from such riders.

The Pay Our Military Act allows DOD to continue to pay civilians and contractors in the event of a shutdown if the defense secretary deems them to be supporting the armed forces. Precisely how that condition should be interpreted remained undecided this afternoon.

GOP lawmakers, and now Markey, argue that the broad language permits Hagel to essentially end furloughs altogether. Should the White House adopt that view, DOD could quickly recall a large number of workers.

It appears that some momentum toward an official interpretation was building today, as Hagel returns from a trip to Asia. One defense official said a "draft" document related to a POMA decision was being circulated.