The Real Reason the Government Will Pay Military Personnel During a Shutdown

Over the weekend, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would ensure all active-duty military personnel continue to get paid in the event of a government shutdown. With numerous other government employees facing furloughs in the event of a shutdown, why were the troops singled out and exempted? The answer: Politics.

At the end of last week, as the odds of a government shutdown grew, Democrats began hitting Republicans for blocking government funding and depriving troops of pay. The two parties have been unable to come to a compromise over the budget, because Tea Party Republicans have refused to accept any deal that doesn't defund or delay Obamacare. That's unacceptable to Senate Democrats, so the federal government is at an impasse.

However, both sides are not equally to blame here and the polls show it. Democrats are open to negotiations while Republicans demand that Obama undermine his greatest legislative achievement. Those are not equal positions. Americans have realized this too, with poll after poll showing that Republicans are to blame for a shutdown.

Understanding this, Republicans knew they would be particularly vulnerable to criticism if they cut paying the troops due to a government shutdown. People become particularly angry when American soldiers who have risked their lives for our country are punished for political bickering in D.C. That's exactly what would happen in the event of a government shutdown, and since Republicans would take the blame for it, they would be blamed for not paying the troops as well.

Luckily, there was a simple solution to this political problem: pass a bill ensuring that active-duty military get paid no matter what. And that's exactly what the House did on Saturday. The bill passed unanimously – no Democrat would vote against such a thing – and passed the Senate Monday afternoon. It now heads to the President's desk where he will certainly sign it.

During the most recent government shutdown in 1996, military pay was never an issue as Congress had passed a military appropriations bill on December 1, 1995 that set military funding for the following year. No appropriations bills, military or otherwise, have passed this year.

There's nothing wrong with this. Of course, it makes sense to pay the troops. But it also makes sense to fund the government. At the moment, Republicans won't allow that to happen. The only reason the military will be exempt from the shutdown is due to Republican political fears. That's how the federal government works these days.

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Danny Vinik

I'm a recent graduate of Duke University majoring in economics and public policy. I write frequently at my own site, called Political Algebra (www.dannyvinik.com). My main interests are economic policy and political analysis. Outside of journalism, I'm a big sports fan, particularly of Duke Basketball and the Boston Red Sox.

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