WASHINGTON -- A bill signed into law by President Obama late Monday will keep paychecks flowing to members of the military and many Department of Defense civilians despite the government shutdown.
The "Pay Our Military" act, which passed the House and Senate without opposition, represented a rare moment of unanimity in Washington, but few were claiming it marked true bipartisanship.
"This measure was necessary because requiring our military to go into combat with only an IOU instead of pay would be a travesty," Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, said on the Senate floor Monday. "But don't be fooled -- it's just one travesty among many, even if we restrict our view to the impact of a government shutdown on the military, there are many other terrible impacts of a shutdown."
About 400,000 Department of Defense workers, who represent approximately half of the department's civilian workforce, have been exempted from furlough and will receive pay, according to the Pentagon.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who was traveling in South Korea, told reporters that Defense Department civilians who are exempt from the shutdown will remain at work and will be paid, he added.
"To think of what this is doing to these civilian employees and their families ... they've taken furloughs already this year -- administrative furloughs," the secretary said. "Now we have legal furloughs. This is going to impact the future of a lot of our employees."
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Ca., complained Tuesday that the Defense Department had interpreted the measure too narrowly. The bill was not meant to limit pay only to those designated as essential.
McKeon said many Defense employees are being furloughed unnecessarily.
"I believe the legislation provides you broad latitude and I encourage you to use it," McKeon wrote in a letter Tuesday to Hagel.
Obama issued a video message Tuesday to the Defense Department workforce promising his administration would "continue to work to address any impact this shut down has on you and your families."
Obama said DOD civilians and their families deserved "better than the dysfunction we're seeing in Congress."