Despite President Trump’s warnings about a devastating impact to the U.S. military in the case of a government shutdown, the military will keep running as usual if Congress can’t reach a temporary budget deal by midnight Friday.
“If for any reason it shuts down, the worst thing is what happens to our military,” Trump said during a press conference Thursday at the Pentagon. “We're rebuilding our military, we're making us — we're bringing it to a level that it's never been at. And the worst thing is for our military; we don't want that to happen. I'm here to support our military.” He’d tweeted similar messages in the past week:
House Speaker Paul Ryan echoed Trump in a press conference later Thursday: “Right now, this is an urgent responsibility, as our military faces a serious deterioration of its readiness capabilities. Unfortunately, Democrats don’t seem to share that urgency at all.”
If a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate don’t agree on a deal before midnight Friday, the government will officially shut down, for the first time since the 16-day shutdown of 2013. But unlike many other federal agencies that will have to furlough essential staff and put their work on hold, the military is largely exempt from a shutdown and will continue to operate normally.
“In the Department of Defense, the shutdown is very different than for the rest of the government,” said Mark Cancian, a former senior official at the Office of Management and Budget. “The military continues to operate as they did before. This does not create an opening for North Korea.”
In the case of a shutdown, some DOD administrative staff would likely have to stay home, putting a pause on planning and equipment purchases, Cancian said. And families of troops killed in action during a government shutdown would not receive death benefits temporarily until the government is up and running again, which happened to four families during the 2013 shutdown.
Republicans and Democrats have been pre-blaming each other in case they can’t come to an agreement after days of negotiating on what extras the temporary budget fix — called a continuing resolution — should include, besides maintaining spending levels. Republicans have control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, so Dems say they should be able to fix this. The Republicans are blaming the Democrats for withholding support for their proposal because it lacks DACA protections, saying a government shutdown will be detrimental to U.S. troops.
Continuing to pass temporary stopgap funding bills instead of an actual budget could impact multiyear contracts and training events, but near-term crisis response is still intact, according to Cancian.
“In fact, if you went to Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, you probably wouldn't even notice there was a government shutdown,” Cancian said. “The military would still be out there, the tanks would be running.”
Debate over the continuing resolution continued throughout the day Thursday with Democrats remaining firmly opposed to the Republicans’ proposed plan, and hard-line Republicans demanding more military spending in the plan.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said Thursday afternoon that some lawmakers are considering a five-day holdover bill that would fund the government through Jan. 23 to give the parties more time to negotiate.
Alexa Liautaud contributed reporting.