By Alana Abramson
January 18, 2018

President Donald Trump has repeatedly argued that a looming government shutdown would hurt the military.

As Congress debates whether to pass a short-term spending resolution or attempt to address immigration issues in a longer-term compromise, Trump has said and tweeted that a shutdown would most drastically impact military funding.

“If for any reason it shuts down, the worst thing would be what happens to our military,” he said Wednesday before a meeting at the Pentagon. “The group that loses big would be the military, and we’re never letting our military lose at any point.”

But a government shutdown, which could happen on Friday if Congress does not pass a resolution to keep it open, would not stop the military from functioning. Since the military is considered an “essential” function — i.e. halting its operations could result in fatalities or impede national security — it will continue to operate regardless of whether or not the government shuts down.

“The military because it’s main excepted activities are war fighting and anything related to life, health and safety, tends to have a lot more excepted activities than the rest of the federal government,” said Katherine Blakeley, a Research Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. “Our war fighting will continue.”

Trump himself has even noted this during a previous shutdown under the Obama Administration.”All essential services continue. Don’t believe lies,” he tweeted in September 2013, when a federal shutdown was looming.

Although this provision is for both the active duty and civilian sides of the military. So soldiers fighting in Afghanistan will proceed as usual should the government shut down, as will civilian employees working on national security efforts in Washington D.C., and programs like deployment and basic training will continue.

Blakeley cautions that doesn’t apply to everyone affiliated with the military. Members of the military with jobs not considered exceptional will, like other federal workers, be temporarily out of work if the government shuts down.

“If you are a uniformed service member or a civilian employee thats doing some of the morale and welfare activity, you’re not showing up to work,” she explained. “[Military leaders] almost line by line person by person function by function go through whats an excepted activity and whats not according to the guidelines put out by the office of the Secretary of Defense.”

Still, that doesn’t mean the military and its members would remain completely insulated from the effects of the shutdown. For starters, they won’t receive paychecks unless Congress takes preventative measures That happened in 2013, when the Senate passed a bill in 2013 ensuring that members of the military would receive paychecks during the shutdown. But the Senate would need to re-approve it, which it has not done yet, although it was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Appropriations Committee in April of 2017.

Blakely also said that a shutdown could produce externalities that would impede the military in the long term, like a loss of morale, basic workplace disruptions, and senior management preemptively planning for a shutdown — some of which she said could have already started to occur.

“With the shutdown situation we might have in front of us … you’re going from 60 percent efficiency to the shutdown,” she said, referring to the fact that the Pentagon has been facing budget uncertainties for months. “And that’s another self-inflicted wound.”

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