Not Paying Military in Shutdown Bad Idea

When the government shutdown in 1995, the United States was at peace. However, President Clinton rightly made sure that the government still paid its military.

For some bizarre reason and at a time when the United States is actively involved in three military conflicts, President Obama has come to a different conclusion.

Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III issued a message to the Department of Defense workforce on a potential government shutdown.

The good news is the following:

“Operations and activities that are essential to safety, protection of human life, and protection of our national security, are ‘excepted’ from shutting down. The DoD will continue to conduct activities in support of our national security, including operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Japan; Libya-related support operations; and other operations and activities essential to the security of our nation. The department must also continue to provide for the safety of human life and protection of property.”

The bad news is that the government will not be paying the military to do these critical tasks during the shutdown period:

“If the government shuts down due to the absence of funding, the DoD will have no funds to pay military members or civilian employees for the days during which the government is shut down. However, both military and civilian personnel will receive pay for the period worked prior to the shutdown. Military personnel, and civilians occupying excepted status positions and required to work, are entitled to be paid for work performed during the shutdown, and will be paid retroactively once the department receives additional funding. Congress would have to provide authority in order for the department to retroactively pay non-excepted employees for the furloughed period.”

This decision is crazy. These people are putting their lives in danger on a daily basis and the President is not going to move heaven and earth to pay them? This is not only an ill-advised action, but also it is stupid.

Defense Secretary Gates said it best this past Thursday during his comments to troops in Iraq:

“As a historian it always occurred to me the smart thing for government was always to pay the guys with guns first. But in all seriousness, based on some stuff I read this morning, if the government shuts down starts on the 8th and goes for a week, you’d get a half a check. If it goes from the 15th to the 30th, you wouldn’t get a pay check on the 30th but you would be back paid for all of it.”

Let’s hope President Obama listens to his own advisors. Many of them, do, after all, know what they are talking about.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
This entry was posted in Defense, Energy Security, International Security, Middle East, Policy, Politics, War and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Not Paying Military in Shutdown Bad Idea

  1. randi gorelick says:

    If there is no money to pay military…DO NOT PAY legislators! IF there will be money for back pay…why isn’t there enough for full pay. These legislators are the dumbest that have ever been elected…what the hell are you thinking? Let some of these cuts dig into YOUR pockets…

  2. Scott Erb says:

    I believe they will reach a deal, but if they don’t they should pay the military but only that. Right now the GOP is attaching riders to any extension that includes military pay, with planned parenthood in DC the main target. So it’ll take both parties to change course in order to assure military pay. Alas, it does sound like Congress will get their paychecks no matter what happens.

  3. Alan Scott says:

    How are Congress and the White House essential ? Now that it is all over , if I was a Republican candidate for President, I damn well would say that in another threatened shutdown military pay would not be in jeopardy . Obama is vulnerable on this especially with his third war, which he is handling like he mishandled the BP oil spill . I can’t believe people are not falling all over themselves to get into the race to unseat this guy .

    The budget was handled exactly like Obama-care . He lets Congress fight it out and then he comes in at the end to save the day . I guess this is consensus management . It ain’t leadership .

    • Scott Erb says:

      The military pay issue is a non-issue because it never happened, and Obama can claim he wouldn’t have let it happen if it came down to that. In fact, if it wasn’t for this blog it’s an issue I would have missed completely. Congress legislates. The President can’t “lead” Congress, there is a real separation of powers. The President certainly doesn’t “lead” the House of Representatives, I’m not sure what you’re expecting. He did manage to do what Clinton could not do, and as you put it “save the day” in the end. But unless you want to alter our form of government and create a Prime Ministerial system, we separate out executive from legislative functions and that means a President is out of line if he tries to control what Congress does. (I also think they’ll probably have an easy route to re-election as long as the economy doesn’t slip back into deep recession).

  4. Alan Scott says:


    I respectfully disagree . The President IS the head of his party . AND Obama did let it be known that he would veto a bill that paid the military . Trust me the military people knew . On talk radio I heard a military wife call in and she was very concerned . I think this was deliberate on the President’s part to pressure Boehner . Those folks will remember that they were Obama’s football .

    • Scott,

      Alan has a point. I only became aware of the problem because a lot of field grade officers in my network were fairly pissed at Obama.

      He’s definitely not popular with the troops. This, DADT, and Libya have alienated him from the military.

      • Scott Erb says:

        No, he did not say he would veto ANY bill that would pay the military, only one that used that to slip in other riders designed to use the military as cover. The Democrats can say that the Republicans were playing with military pay to try to cut planned parenthood. I think he should have demanded (and should say he’ll demand) a bill only dealing with military pay if a shutdown were to come up again. I can see the point on Libya, though it isn’t involving ground troops. I can’t respect military folk for disliking DADT. They can’t escape the fact we’re in the 21st century.

      • “No, he did not say he would veto ANY bill that would pay the military, only one that used that to slip in other riders designed to use the military as cover.”

        Correct, but the specific bill he threated to veto did have such a provision (as well as the other riders you suggest). Someone who cared about the military would have insisted on such a provision no matter what. Obama did not.

        “I can’t respect military folk for disliking DADT. They can’t escape the fact we’re in the 21st century.”

        The problem with the whole discussion on this policy is that the media only gave airtime to the bigots and never let more reasonable folks articulate why a blanket repeal of DADT was a bad idea.

        Additionally, and with respect, most civilians have no clue what its like to serve in the military until they served a day in the bitter cold, freezing their butts off, smelling like goats, and huddling together with their fellow comrades for heat and survival.

        Homosexuals could serve in the military under DADT, they just could not reveal their orientation to others. The problem with the policy is that it is not as black and white as many think. It is about maximizing unit cohesion and military effectiveness.

        When you take food, water, and shelter away from human beings and put their lives in danger, they behave like animals. I know, I’ve seen and experienced it.

        For this reason, women cannot serve in units that are closest to combat (i.e., infantry, armor, artillery, etc.). This is not because they are not capable (in fact, many are more capable than their male counterparts). It is because commanders do not want people having sex on or near the battlefield (Unfortunately it happens quite often in the support units where mixed male-female units are common).

        Now that homosexuals can openly serve in any unit, there is no logical reason to prohibit women from serving in any unit either. In essence, the military has conceded (quite wrongly in my opinion), that people will not behave like people in stress situations. The net result will be a reduction in combat discipline and effectiveness in combat units.

        I believe that a more sensible policy would maintain DADT, but also allow openly gay soldiers to serve in any specialty except those closest to combat.

        Instead, the military has opened the floodgates to a policy that will ultimately reduce the effectiveness of its forces at the tip of the spear.

        Then you have practical issues. When I was a cadet, the Army experimented with my platoon of cadets with a mixed male-female barracks and it was a clusterf**k.

        Not only did the 20% of the women take 80% of latrine time, but a massive amount of leadership time was spent attempting to make such a ridiculous arrangement work (It didn’t).

        Then of course you have the ridiculous distractions that result when you mix homosexuality with religious bigotry.

        In one case, a four-star general had to become involved in a case where two homosexual soldiers’s lives were threatened by other soldiers.

        Look, DADT wasn’t ideal, but it worked. The new policy will reduce good order and discipline for certain. The only question is whether it will have a big or a small impact.

        The problem today is that people do not bother to examine the practical implications of these policy changes. They paint them as black and white or as right and wrong.

  5. So I’m not sure I totally understand. If the shutdown had happened and no deal had happened, the decision to not have troops paid was determined by the congressional act or the executive interpretation and implementation of congress’ act or the lack of it.

    I wondered if the Republicans had wanted to make non-payment of troops an issue to play up. It seems like the kind of thing that a conservative base would react to especially strongly.

    The finger pointing as opposed to getting job done is irritating beyond words.

    • Bruce,

      Before the two sides reached a compromise, the Republicans offered a one-week extension that included a remedy for non- payment of the military, which Obama threatened to veto.

      However, it is likely the fix included other items that Obama was probably unwilling to accept that had nothing to do with this issue.

      I also agree that most of this budget brinksmanship was nothing more than political theater. In the end, the government is still growing and our government failed us.

  6. Was DADT a kind of compromise reached in the early 1990’s to make progress from the old policy, that I understood to be: if we find out your gay (and we may even make active efforts to do so) you’ll be discharged dishonorably. I’ve felt like the fact that it was progress in the not to distant past was lost in that debate.

    • “Was DADT a kind of compromise reached in the early 1990′s to make progress from the old policy, that I understood to be: if we find out your gay (and we may even make active efforts to do so) you’ll be discharged dishonorably.”

      It was. When I joined the military in the early nineties, the military actually used both direct and indirect ways to ferret out this information.

      For instance, I remember filling out a survey that actually asked me if I was a homosexual. They also had officer candidates take psychological profile tests to indirectly get at sexual orientation (i.e., which of the following occupations most interest you: police officer, firefighter, carpenter, florist?). You get the picture.

      Sufficed it to say, the policy before DADT was extremely homophobic.

  7. Scott Erb says:

    Most advanced countries allow homosexuals to serve in their military, including Israel (which has one of the best militaries). I really think it is simply time to reflect the changing cultural attitudes towards homosexuality. There has been no evidence in other countries that allow homosexuals to serve that this has done any harm, nor has it opened the floodgates to lots of new policies regarding women, etc. So the available empirical evidence suggests that this change (requested by the Pentagon) won’t have a negative effect.

    • No offense, but most of the militaries of other advanced countries are a joke. France is something like 100 miles from Libya and they couldn’t start the conflict without the US military.

      The Israelis are good, but the United States military is far superior. And I believe that some of their combat units have females. The net result has been a degradation in effectiveness. Ask Hizbullah how the Israelis performed in 2006.

      The problem is that political correctness is slowly, but inexorably weakening our military. The case of Major Hasan is a noteworthy example. Despite copious evidence that he was a raging jihadi, his Army superiors kept ignoring all the warning signs for fear of offending him.

      The primary purpose of our military is to win wars. Anything that detracts from this objective should be discouraged.

  8. Scott Erb says:

    The Europeans are the best equipped and most professional forces on the planet except for the US. The US has much better equipment and technology — and spends a lot more. But the Israeli and European armies are active, professional and most allow homosexuals to serve without problem. I doubt “political correctness” is a big problem — one case where a guy goes crazy isn’t enough to make a categorical statement. If it happens only once, it’s by definition very rare.

    I’m not sure if the main purpose of the military is clear any more. I think most foreign policy analysts see it as being much more than just to win wars. Some would say it should be more focused — to defend the US and its core interests (even if that doesn’t involve all out war). I think we need a real public debate about the use of military force and the role of the military. I don’t think we can continue to afford to spend half the world’s military budget on our forces.

    • “I’m not sure if the main purpose of the military is clear any more. I think most foreign policy analysts see it as being much more than just to win wars. Some would say it should be more focused — to defend the US and its core interests (even if that doesn’t involve all out war).”

      I agree. I would argue for latter over the former, but the military’s role has morphed since Bosnia. Bush railed against peacekeeping and then went into Iraq and Afghanistan and discovered that the U.S. government didn’t have the integrated capacity for nation-building. Now Obama is making a similar mistake Libya on this point.

      I wish these guys would learn from their predecessors.

  9. Alan Scott says:

    When time was short and Republicans put forth a bill paying the military, Obama could have taken it off the table as an issue by making a deal to separate out the military pay . The GOP would have been more than happy to make that deal. I still say the pay issue part was a leverage point for Democrats . If we make that an issue going forward, you Democrats would have a really hard time disproving it .

    I think Obama was stupid in every aspect . You have troops all over the world committed to serious missions and you want to even hint at delaying their pay . More important, I personally wouldn’t want the pilots flying Air force One wondering about their paychecks . You have to be insane .

  10. V. R. Kaine says:

    Some comic relief – Eddie Izzard talking about transvestites and the military.
    “They’re missing a HUGE opportunity here, because we all know one of the main elements of attack is the element of surprise, so what would be more surprising than the 1st Betallion Transvestite Brigade…”

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  13. Colton says:

    I agree that military should be paid, and the government itself should be the first place that gets pay cuts in case of an emergency shut down.

    However, the best argument I can come up with for the military pay cuts is as follows.

    Soldiers are here to protect our country, are they not?
    So when the threat to our country changes from physical to economical, shouldn’t they be ready to sacrifice their pay in order to protect us from that threat? They’re ready to sacrifice their lives, but not their paychecks? That doesn’t make sense to me.

    Just realized this article is a year old, I just had to do some research for a debate. My friend brought up how Obama almost didn’t pay the military 4 times. And this is where Google brought me. 🙂

    • “So when the threat to our country changes from physical to economical, shouldn’t they be ready to sacrifice their pay in order to protect us from that threat? They’re ready to sacrifice their lives, but not their paychecks? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

      Would you be willing to subsume your rights to a government that doesn’t pay you anything? More importantly, would you work for someone who didn’t pay you anything?

      You are asking a population that is already sacrificing their lives to sacrifice the well-being of their families as well. Do you think it is an intelligent policy to prevent soldiers from providing for their families?

      Moreover, when you stop paying the military, you are playing with fire. The higher ranks would sacrifice pay because they are invested in the system, but the lower ranks would mutiny.

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