The Government Shutdown Has Nothing to Do With the Military

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On Thursday, Republicans rolled out their new/old argument against anything they don’t like: what about The Troops????

Here’s Donald Trump this morning, telling a lie:


And here is Speaker of the House Paul Ryan this morning, telling the same lie:

Ryan seems to strongly imply that if the government shuts down on Friday, the U.S. military will crumble into dust, thus allowing Sharia Law to sweep the nation. I’m here to reassure him that the U.S. military will be just fine in the event of a government shutdown.

First (as CNN forgot to mention in its tweet) this argument is completely misleading, because a government shutdown would not affect military readiness in the slightest.


Under a partial shutdown, military and law enforcement officials would technically be working without pay until Congress can get its proverbial shit together and cobble together a budget—or more likely, passes another short-term continuing resolution—but they’d still be working.

As MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin explains:

Here’s where the “partial” in partial government shutdown kicks in. Federal workers considered essential to national security and the safety of life and property would still have to show up and do their jobs. That includes the military, law enforcement officials, TSA screeners, doctors, and border patrol agents, among others.

Despite showing up for work, these excepted workers wouldn’t get paid unless Congress somehow authorizes more funding. In 2013, Congress passed the Pay Our Military Act, which kept military paychecks going during the shutdown and also allowed hundreds of thousands of civilian defense workers to keep going to work and received pay as well. But that law was not permanent, and Congress would have to pass a similar bill this time if they want to pay the same federal employees and contractors during a shutdown.


For whatever reason, Republicans did not express similar concerns about the erosion of military readiness as they considered shutting down the government in 2013. And if another shutdown does occur, Republicans in Congress always have the option to do what they did in 2013, and pass a stopgap measure to fund military paychecks.

It’s worth remembering that when Republicans talk about “our troops,” they’re usually using it as a metonym for “white troops.” If the GOP truly cared about military members as a whole, perhaps they wouldn’t be trying to destroy Medicaid, which covers one in 12 military children. Perhaps they’d support a Medicare for all system, which would make infinitely more sense for military members and their families than the piecemeal horror show that is the Department of Veterans Affairs. If Republican leaders truly gave a damn about military members, they wouldn’t be nudging us toward another forever war in the Middle East with no exit strategy. If Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell cared about the military, they might care about the protection of the roughly 900 DACA recipients who serve in the U.S. Army.


Republicans in office do care about “the military”—but only as it pertains to the United States exerting its dominance over other countries across the globe. The modern GOP foreign policy/public relations project has been to convince the public that what’s best for defense contractors like Boeing—which spent a modest $12.5 million on lobbying in 2017—is the same as what’s best for the people fighting our wars.

Saying that a government shutdown will erode American military readiness—which, again, is a lie—is a convenient fig leaf to use in this situation, and one that I’d expect Republicans to use more and more in the coming years. The argument that anyone who opposes falling in line with the Trump agenda hates the military is a double-whammy of bad faith political rhetoric: it both plays to vintage liberal-bashing, and conveniently elides the actual human impact of the Republican budgetary maneuvers.

Senior politics reporter at Splinter.

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