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Government shutdown – Could the Pentagon be affected?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Defense Department’s funding bill for fiscal 2019 was among the appropriations bills signed into law before the beginning of the fiscal year Oct. 1. However, seven spending bills remain unpassed.

On Dec. 5, the president signed a continuing resolution that will provide temporary appropriations for nine cabinet departments, including the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Commerce, Justice and Interior and numerous smaller agencies through Dec. 21.

If Congress fails to reach an agreement on the seven remaining spending bills, the government could partially shut down for the third time this year.

While the impact on the Defense Department is not as severe this time, there will still be repercussions.

  • Department of State. Some overseas services provided to military troops deployed to allied countries overseas would be curtailed while civilian personnel supporting troops in combat areas, including Afghanistan, could be affected. Some personnel would be deemed essential while others would be furloughed. Additionally, international aid payments to U.S. allies could be delayed.
  • Department of Homeland Security. Active-duty troops and National Guard personnel deployed to the southern border of the U.S. could see border patrol activities cut or canceled. While agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol would likely have to work without pay for the duration of the impasse, personnel who support other functions such as finance, human resources and acquisitions would likely be furloughed. That means that the only people left to take care of those support functions are the uniformed border patrol agents.

With no time to spare before the end of the year and the end of the 115th Congress, all the bills will need to pass as one big omnibus. Any sticking point could topple the whole thing.

So, what is the sticking point? The Department of Homeland Security measure and funding for the president’s border wall.

President Trump wants $5 billion this fiscal year to fund construction of a border wall. The House-passed Homeland Security bill included the $5 billion.

However, the Senate’s measure only provided $1.6 billion. Democrats say they will not provide the needed votes for anything beyond the $1.6 billion figure.

A shut down could be averted if the president and Congress reach an agreement before the Dec. 21 deadline. If they don’t, Congress could pass another continuing resolution which would punt the whole funding mess into the next Congress.

That scenario adds another wrinkle because Democrats will take over control of the House of Representatives next year.