A potential U.S. government shutdown late this week could come with a sensitive wrinkle: U.S. troops who are deployed in combat zones would continue to do their jobs, but they might not receive pay until the shutdown is over, along with other federal employees.
David L. Norquist, the Pentagon comptroller, acknowledged the possibility in a news briefing Thursday. If a shutdown occurs, U.S. troops and other essential employees still report to work, “but we are not able to pay them until the shutdown ends,” he said.
Maintenance also will temporarily cease on many aircraft and vehicles outside war zones, and benefits will not be paid to families who have lost a service member in the line of duty until the shutdown ends, the comptroller added.
“The challenge is there’s no way to make a shutdown easier,” Norquist said. “It’s not designed to be easy; it’s designed to be destructive.”
The shutdown remained a possibility Thursday as Congress scrambled to pass a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government running through Dec. 22. The existing continuing resolution funding the government expires Friday night, and lawmakers and President Trump have openly discussed this week the possibility of a shutdown as they spar about immigration and other issues.
If a stopgap measure is approved, Congress is still expected to need to pass another spending deal before the end of the year.
The wrangling on Capitol Hill comes after a shutdown that lasted for about 17 days in October 2013 because of disagreements over the Affordable Care Act. In that case, House Republicans put forth a bill to fund salaries for U.S. troops during the shutdown, and it ultimately was passed in both chambers of Congress and signed into law by former president Barack Obama.
In that shutdown, hundreds of thousands of civilians working for the Defense Department were furloughed, but the Pentagon eventually recalled many of them to return to work unpaid to carry out jobs that could not wait. If a shutdown occurs this year, Norquist said that could happen again.
“There are probably some things where one doesn’t need them for a few days, but if the shutdown goes on longer then they would be considered necessary to be excepted,” he said. “So, we’ll just have to see how that goes.”