(The Hill) – Troop paychecks and national security are under threat as Congress stands on the edge of a government shutdown, with no clear solution for getting a defense budget passed.
After House Republicans three times tried to advance their fiscal 2024 Pentagon spending bill — efforts tanked by opposition from the GOP’s far-right members — lawmakers have only until Saturday at midnight to work out a fix.
But with efforts continuing to stall, that could mean hundreds of thousands of service members and civilian workers won’t get paychecks starting this weekend, unless Congress passes emergency legislation to ensure America’s military continue to get paid.
Administration officials are now sounding the alarm, with Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh warning Tuesday that “over 1 million military members” as well as furloughed civilian employees would go without pay during a shutdown.
And that delay will have “huge, profound impacts across the globe,” when it comes to security, she told CNN.
“If the U.S. government shuts down, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran — these are countries that are not shutting down, that are continuing their operations,” Singh said.
Singh noted that the more immediate repercussions include a lack of personnel at their stations or in their command posts to continue missions, as well as added burdens on military families that still need to pay for housing.
The White House laid out those furloughed active duty roles by location earlier Tuesday, which included 171,700 troops working abroad; 163,300 troops in California; 129,400 troops in Virginia; 114,200 troops in Texas; 95,900 troops in North Carolina; and 66,900 troops in Florida.
“We have to remember, these service members, these civilians, are still members of our community that pay rent, that have mortgages to pay, childcare, schools for their children,” Singh said. “So the shutdown has real-world impacts and impacts right here at home in our communities.”
The U.S. government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. Sunday should Congress not come to an agreement to extend funding — an outcome that looks increasingly likely as far-right House members have rejected any solution so far proposed.
President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in May initially made a debt ceiling agreement that set limits on spending for the next year, but conservatives in the House want deeper cuts than agreed upon. House GOP members have since rejected several deals amongst themselves, making it unlikely they’ll soon find common ground with the Senate and White House.
In the event of the government shuttering, troops must continue to work but won’t get paid unless lawmakers decide to pass last-minute legislation to ensure they continue to receive a paycheck, something that has been introduced in both the House and the Senate but not yet voted on.
The Defense Department’s civilian employees considered essential for national security, meanwhile, would also have to continue working without pay. And about half of the Pentagon’s civilian workforce that work on issues such as recruiting and global affairs would be furloughed.
The military is automatically guaranteed pay — and would receive any backpay once a shutdown ends — but money cannot be dispersed until there is an agreed upon spending bill. That means the first payday after a prospective government closure would be Oct. 13, said Mark Cancian, a retired Marine colonel now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The reality could be dire for military members who are living hand to mouth.
“There are members, especially junior members, who live paycheck to paycheck, and so not getting a paycheck and not knowing when you’re going to get a paycheck is a really big deal,” said Elaine McCusker, a former acting Pentagon comptroller who’s now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
She noted that in 2013, when the government shut down for 16 days, lawmakers were able to pass a bill to keep service members paid, voting it through mere hours ahead of the spigot being turned off.
A similar bill, the Pay Our Troops Act, was introduced in the House by Navy veteran Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.) last week, proposing to “not allow the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our country go without pay.”
The bill “will protect members of the military, including the Coast Guard, as well as certain U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees and contractors should Congress fail to provide temporary or full-year federal funding by September 30, 2023,” Kiggans said in a statement when introducing the legislation.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) brought forward related legislation in his chamber, but it’s unclear if either effort will work, as neither the House nor Senate leadership has indicated they’ll take up the bills.
Military training is also expected to take a hit should funding run out, with McCusker warning that there could be “unrecoverable effects” in some cases.
“If you missed planned training events, that time is gone,” she told The Hill. “Now you’re stacked up against future training events, and you’re trying to cram in training that was supposed to take place into a schedule that’s already full. You have a degradation of readiness. … It’s kind of a cascading effect on things that you can’t do.”
What’s more, the Pentagon can’t make necessary weapons buys or fund new vital technology as quickly as it wants to, leaving it falling behind adversaries on innovative technology or production.
In addition, shutdown decision-making has “consumed much of [Defense Department] senior leadership,” distracting from vital national security areas that need attention, Cancian said.
“Instead of thinking about Russia, Ukraine, or China, the senior leadership is thinking about which personnel is considered emergency and what funding sources might be available to continue certain activities,” he added.