Why another shutdown would be bad for the US military
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Why another shutdown would be bad for the US military

November 6, 2023 | Updated on November 15, 2023

Despite the recent passage of stopgap funding to keep the federal government open, Congress is once again running down the clock on another potential shutdown that would furlough nearly 1.5 million federal employees and force more than 650,000 to work without pay. 

Among those negatively impacted by a shutdown would be members of the U.S. military, who would suffer financially and lose out on training, weakening our national security at a critical juncture in global affairs. 

Service members stand to lose 

If a government shutdown is not avoided, it will be the fourth to occur within the last decade. Our assessment of the most recent shutdown—which lasted a historic 35 days from Dec. 22, 2018, until Jan. 25, 2019—shows that when our government closes up shop, both the economy and the ability of agencies to serve the public suffers.  

The report also offers an ominous warning for what could lie ahead for the nation’s armed forces if Congress does not enact a budget before the next deadline. 

During the 2018-2019 shutdown, 42,000 members of the Coast Guard worked without pay—a first for active-duty service members—because the Department of Homeland Security’s appropriation lapsed. Due to the nature of their work, service members continue to report for duty when the government closes and do not get paid until their service’s appropriation is approved.  

Although members of both the House and Senate have introduced bills this year to ensure that all service members get paid in the event of a shutdown, none have passed. If the nation’s armed forces are not funded within the next week, up to 1.3 million service members would continue to serve the nation without pay after Nov. 17.  

Additionally, 439,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department would be furloughed and nearly 200,000 more would be required to work without pay.  

A hit to our national security  

This would be unprecedented and harm our nation’s security in both predictable and unpredictable ways.  

Significantly, military families would take the brunt of the negative impact. With one in three military families having less than $3,000 in savings, many would struggle to pay their mortgage, get groceries or afford child care. Food insecurity is already a serious issue for service members, with a 2021 DOD survey of U.S. troops finding that nearly one in four experience “low food security.” 

While the armed forces would continue operations to keep the nation safe, military readiness could suffer and recruiting efforts could slip, giving an edge to our adversaries

Post and base services would also be curtailed or closed, elective medical procedures would be postponed, eroding morale, and critical training activities would be delayed, leading to postponed promotions. Furthermore, a shutdown would disrupt the testing and acquisition of material, including weapons and new technology.  

With the next deadline looming less than two weeks, it is imperative for Congress to act in a timely manner to fully fund the government. There are myriad reasons why Congress needs to act swiftly. Ensuring the continued readiness of our armed forces to protect and serve the country is paramount among them. 

Read our recent op-ed and blog post on why government shutdowns harm our country and how Congress can fix the problem.   

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