Ahead of last night’s House vote on the latest stopgap spending measure, Donald Trump said via Twitter that the bill had to pass because “our Military needs it.”
This has quickly become the White House’s standard line: a government shutdown, Trump said yesterday, would be “devastating to our military.” (The draft-dodging president, who has a dubious record on the issue, then questioned Democrats’ patriotism, arguing that Dems “care very little” about the military.) Vice President Mike Pence added, “At a time when we have U.S. soldiers in harm’s way in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be unconscionable for Democrats in Congress to jeopardize funding for our military.”
And that’s effectively what the debate has come down to: if Democrats fail to go along with Republican funding plans, we’re supposed to believe they don’t support the troops.
It’s a lazy and cynical argument for a wide variety of reasons – not the least of which is that there are several Republicans who oppose their own party’s plan, and they probably won’t appreciate these attacks – but as the Washington Post noted today, the line isn’t even true.
With the threat of a government shutdown looming, Trump repeatedly has warned that the military could be shut down or devastated and that his plans to “rebuild” the armed forces would be thrown into question. In support of the president’s claims, the White House points to comments from the Pentagon’s comptroller, who said in December that a shutdown could stop maintenance on weapons systems.
A federal law generally bars agencies from continuing to work at taxpayer expense during a shutdown, but that law provides major exceptions for military and intelligence operations, national security and emergencies.
The Defense Department’s most recent contingency plan for a shutdown says all active-duty military personnel would stay on the job, as well as 22 percent of its civilian employees. Moreover, the president has broad authority to decide who stays on the job during a shutdown — an authority that extends to maintenance workers for military weapons systems.
That’s right, but we can take this a step further.
In 2013, when Republicans last shut down the government, Congress passed a bill to guarantee pay for military personnel, so servicemen and women wouldn’t be adversely affected. In Congress, where unanimous votes aren’t common, the measure passed both chambers without opposition.
There’s no reason the GOP-led Congress couldn’t bring up an identical bill today, and, one assumes, Trump would sign it.
I’m not saying a government shutdown would have no effect on the military – in 2013, there was a delay in death benefits, for example – but for the president to insist it would be “devastating” is plainly wrong.