Theatrics and grandstanding have replaced substance as a government shutdown approaches. Which DoD personnel would get paid, and when; how well the intelligence community and homeland security professionals can continue to operate; and what would happen to veterans are all unclear. However one consequence is certain: America appears weak and divided for no reason amid important international developments. It is encouraging to our foes and disheartening to our friends, that lawmakers are holding the country hostage to their disagreement with a law that has already been passed by both chambers of Congress, was signed into law and upheld by the Supreme Court.
A shutdown makes America vulnerable, less safe. Clinton T. Brass of the Congressional Research Service explains that under a government shutdown, “some entities wishing to take actions harmful to U.S. interests may see the nation as physically and politically vulnerable…the nation’s ability to respond to an incident could be delayed…the longer the duration of a government shutdown, the more at-risk the nation becomes as enemies of the U.S. may seek to exploit perceived vulnerabilities.” This occurs at a time when the White House is gaining traction on relations with Iran, a delicate and thorny issue that has troubled U.S. presidents for thirty years. As Suzanne Maloney explains, “it would be difficult to overstate how momentous a mere phone call is for both countries and for the international community… The contours of whatever lies beneath the charm offensive should become clear over the upcoming weeks and months, as the two sides engage in an accelerated effort to hammer out a nuclear accord.”
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) details, “All DoD work will stop on weapons and equipment maintenance not directly related to war, bases will not be maintained and we will see a degradation of facilities…You’ll see massive disruptions all across this country.” Durbin further noted a shutdown would “cripple our intelligence community.” [Clinton T. Brass, 9/25/13. Dick Durbin via Defense News, 9/26/13]
Potential DoD furloughs and delays in soldier pay. Defense News explains the complications, “Active-duty troops will report to work as usual next week regardless, yet a large swath of the Defense Department’s civilian workforce could be placed on temporarily furlough if lawmakers cannot agree on a new budget agreement before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. Paychecks for the roughly 1.4 million active-duty troops may be delayed if the shutdown continues in the run-up to the payday on Oct. 15, but troops will be entitled to retroactive pay if and when the government resumes routine operations.” As Foreign Policy’s Situation Report writes this morning, “A senior defense official tells Situation Report that if the government shuts down past Oct. 7, the Pentagon could have trouble getting checks to the troops on time. Congress, on the other hand, would get paid no matter what.” [Defense News, 9/27/13. FP, 9/30/13]
House conservatives punish troops, signal weakness over an issue where democracy worked. ABC lays out the contours of the debate: “Congress is stubbornly deadlocked over the federal budget and ongoing rollout of Obamacare, as a midnight deadline for a government shutdown quickly approaches…. House Republicans have passed a bill to keep the government open, but only if the new provisions of the health care law are delayed by one year.” Obamacare was voted on by both chambers of Congress and was signed into law in 2010, and later upheld by the Supreme Court.
However, lawmakers who disagree with the policy are holding the government and country hostage to get their way. As Carl Levin, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee stated, “It’s unconscionable that some members of Congress would place their own policy preferences ahead of the needs of our troops and their families.” [ABC News, 9/30/13. Carl Levin via Politico, 9/28/13]