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Government Shutdown Temporarily Delayed

Update: On March 6, 2024, the House passed multiple spending bills funding certain government agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, for the remainder of the fiscal year. These spending bills moved to the Senate for a vote on Friday, March 8, 2024. The bills passed the Senate and were signed into law by the President on March 9. 2024. What follows is preserved here for archival purposes.

A partial government shutdown has been delayed for now thanks to a last-minute temporary funding extension passed in the House and Senate.

While that sounds like a small victory, some believe this news is actually a failure of leadership in Washington to get a full federal budget sorted out and get the government working properly. And it’s easy to understand why they feel this way. Stopgap funding does NOT fully fund government operations, especially at the DoD level, creating severe problems in mission-essential areas for the DoD.

The failure to pass a federal budget on time without resorting to continuing resolutions or a government shutdown directly hurts the Defense Department, troops, and families, as we’ll explore below.

The Stopgap Spending Bill Passed January 17, 2024

Stripes.com notes that the current last-minute measure maintains “spending for veterans programs, military construction and other federal agencies and programs through March 1 and the Pentagon through March 8” while reminding, “Funding was set to expire Friday for parts of the VA and Feb. 2 for the Defense Department.”

Without these funds, the government would be forced to temporarily shut down VA offices such as transition assistance and job counseling centers.

The programs would stop, the employees would be furloughed and everyone would have to wait out the shutdown. This will not happen, for now, But the same issues will face the government when the next deadline arrives in March.

The continuing resolution is meant to provide more time to pass a dozen bills to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September 2024.

The temporary funding measure keeps the lights on, so to speak, in the Defense Department, the VA, and other federal agencies, but federal agencies can’t operate normally under a continuing resolution. Why?

Related: Military Money 101

How the Government Runs Under a Continuing Resolution

The official site of the Senate Appropriations Committee includes quotes from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III on the damage caused by operating under a continuing resolution.

“A year-long CR would set us behind in meeting our pacing challenge highlighted in our National Defense Strategy—the People’s Republic of China (PRC). … Our ability to execute our strategy is contingent upon our ability to innovate and modernize to meet this challenge, which cannot happen under a CR.”

His remarks here are directed toward the notion that the government might need to resort to a full-year continuing resolution rather than an actual federal budget because factions in the House won’t do what’s right for those in uniform, their spouses, and children. That’s an idea that’s been floated by lawmakers including the Speaker of the House.

Defense Secretary Austin has gone on record saying such a scenario would be a disaster.

“A year-long CR would misalign billions of dollars, subject Service members and their families to unnecessary stress, damage our readiness, and impede our ability to react to emergent events.”

What Austin doesn’t say here but is worth noting? Lawmaker refusal to pass a federal budget comes when the nation is facing major threats from China, Russia, and the Middle East and are actively involved in hostile fire.

Those in Washington who have gone on the record supporting a full-year continuing resolution seem unwilling to address or even acknowledge that aspect of the standoff.

What would be affected by a full-year continuing resolution?

  • The DoD would “absorb an estimated $5.8 billion cut” to “military personnel accounts.”
  • Those cuts would “exacerbate the already serious recruiting challenges that the Department is facing” and jeopardize DoD’s investments in taking care of servicemembers and their families, according to the Secretary of Defense.
  • Delay modernization of the U.S. “nuclear triad.”

Related: Military Money 101

Should the Government Shut Down?

Some want to know why some lawmakers don’t just step back and let the shutdown happen. The Bipartisan Policy Center breaks it down well, noting, “When there is a shutdown, a department, agency, or program must:

  • Stop all projects and activities as quickly as within three to four hours;
  • Furlough employees whose work activities have not been exempted from the shutdown;
  • Halt pay for all government employees and contractors, whether they are working (exempted) or not; and
  • Sign no further contracts for goods and services.”

During a shutdown, PCS moves, new assignments, and other functions are all subject to delay or cancellation.

And yes, you read the list above correctly. Unless a specific provision is made to protect military members, they will work without a paycheck delivered until after the shutdown ends. The troops would receive back pay for their labor, but that doesn’t matter when the landlord comes asking for the rent.  These issues can’t be ignored when talking about shutting down government operations due to a lack of funds.

What’s to Know Before March 22, 2024

At press time, the federal government was running on temporary funding, and there was no approval for the current year’s scheduled military spending, such as family housing construction, permanent change of station moves, and certain VA facilities.

18 lawmakers in the Senate and 108 in the House of Representatives voted against the new stopgap funding measure. The first continuing resolution was set to expire in March, but the President’s signing of the first set of full-year funding into law averted that. A second round must be signed into law by March 22, 2024, or the government may shut down.

Related: Military Money 101

About the author

Editor-in-Chief | + posts

Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.