White House warns of shutdown threat to national security

September 26, 2023

The White House on Tuesday warned that if Congress doesn’t agree on a federal budget, forcing a government shutdown in four days, national security would be undermined and 1.3 million service members would have to work without pay.

In a statement, the White House further noted that hundreds of thousands of civilian workers in the Department of Defense would also be furloughed, affecting the ways in which the Pentagon manages its affairs globally, including recruiting new service members.

Some active duty troops could also be furloughed, according to the White House, including 171,700 troops working abroad; 163,300 troops in California; 129,400 troops in Virginia; 114,200 troops in Texas; 95,900 troops in North Carolina, and 66,900 troops in Florida.

“All of this would prove disruptive to our national security,” the White House said.

The White House statement was released the same day that the House and Senate were set to take up votes in their separate chambers to attempt to force a budget resolution and avoid a shutdown.

The Senate was set to vote at 5:30pm ET Tuesday on a stopgap measure, moving first in an attempt to put pressure on Speaker Kevin McCarthy to also bring it to the House floor for a vote.

On the House side of Capitol Hill, McCarthy planned to hold a vote Tuesday on an appropriations measure that would open debate on four fiscal 2024 spending bills.

The federal government will shut down at midnight Saturday if the federal budget is not passed by both chambers of Congress.

Resolving the crisis has been bogged down by Republican infighting in the House that at times has grown rather heated in recent days. GOP hardliners like Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) have not only been shrugging off a potential shutdown by saying things like, “Life is going to go on,” former President Trump has been encouraging them toward actively working to shut the government down.

On Sunday Trump addressed his fellow Republicans on his platform Truth Social, writing, “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN! Close the Border, stop the Weaponization of ‘Justice,’ and End Election Interference.”

In its Tuesday statement the Biden White House put the blame squarely in the hands of the opposing party: 

“The reason these national security priorities are now at risk: extreme House Republicans’ relentless efforts to slash funding for vital programs rather than work in a bipartisan manner to keep the government open and address emergency needs for the American people.”

If McCarthy were to team up with House Democrats to pass a bipartisan continuing resolution (CR)—as at least a few GOP moderates have said they’d be willing to do— conservative hardliners like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) have threatened to take away his Speaker’s gavel. 

A concession McCarthy made to those same hardliners in January to secure the Speakership in the first place allows just one Representative to make a motion to vacate—essentially, calling for a “no confidence” vote against the Speaker to have him ousted. Before McCarthy, a motion to vacate required a majority vote from members of the Speaker’s party.

On the other hand, Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have reminded their colleagues that government shutdowns have historically been “a loser for Republicans, politically.”

McCarthy “has a career-altering decision to make,” noted one House Republican lawmaker.

The last government shutdown occurred in December 2018-January 2019 and stretched on for five weeks in a dispute between then-President Trump and Democratic Congressional leadership over funding his border wall.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, that shutdown—the nation’s longest ever—lowered the nation’s projected level of real GDP in the first quarter of 2019 by $8 billion, of which the CBO estimated only $5 billion was recovered.

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