President Donald Trump keeps claiming that the possible government shutdown on Friday will hurt the military worst of all.
On Thursday, he tweeted, “A government shutdown will be devastating to our military ... something the Dems care very little about!” He made similar comments to reporters during a visit to the Pentagon a few hours later.
But that’s not entirely true. That’s because a government shutdown doesn’t actually mean the entire government shuts down. Government employees who are considered “excepted” are exempt from the furlough and will continue to work.
Active-duty military personnel are among those who are “excepted.” So the military will still function even if the government shuts down, although as of now some personnel will not be paid for their work.
Where the shutdown could potentially impact the military in the short-term, though, is if the thousands of civilian officials and contractors who work for the Department of Defense in support of the military are furloughed.
Positions like accountants, secretaries, and press officers — all of whom do critical work that makes the military run smoothly — are nevertheless considered “non-excepted” and would therefore be sent home if the government shut down (though some people are forced to work for free and just receive back pay after the government reopens).
If the shutdown lasts only a day or two, military personnel probably won’t notice any major changes to their day-to-day work, says Byron Callan, a defense budget expert at Capital Alpha Partners. But if the shutdown lasts longer — stretching into weeks — that’s a different story.
The military worked during the last government shutdown
Let’s rewind to the 2013 government shutdown, which lasted for two weeks.
Before it happened, Trump actually tweeted, “All essential services continue. Don’t believe the lies.” It seems that Trump forgot his own advice.
“Here’s the truth, the gov't doesn’t shutdown” http://t.co/Ny6RxVYiP0 via @AP. All essential services continue. Don't believe lies.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2013
Active-duty troops worked through that ordeal too. “We can and will continue to support key military operations,” Bob Hale, the Defense Department’s comptroller at the time, told Federal News Radio.
But the military did face some hardships. That shutdown halted payments to families of fallen troops, shuttered regional veterans facilities, and canceled some drills for the National Guard and reserve troops.
In other words, we’ve seen this movie before. The government shuts down and the military feels some discomfort while it continues to operate.
So Trump’s rhetoric doesn’t match what might actually happen. The military will continue to work — even if the rest of the government won’t.