Government shutdown is lousy theater

Posted 12/26/18

To The Editor:Congress is anything, if not predictable. We began 2018 with a partial government shutdown and end the year with another. When I was a child in the 1990s, government shutdowns were a …

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Government shutdown is lousy theater

Posted

To The Editor:

Congress is anything, if not predictable. We began 2018 with a partial government shutdown and end the year with another. When I was a child in the 1990s, government shutdowns were a big news event. As a U.S. service member, they create a more personal effect. 

Historically, previous shutdowns delayed pay for troops. It appears that this shutdown may not have the same effect on active duty Department of Defense service members. Even if military pay is protected, government shutdowns inevitably affect service members indirectly.

Far from the entertainment value they provide over cable news networks, partial government shutdowns often have serious impacts on service members and their families. Having pay delayed is just one potential fallout. In the past, partial shutdowns disrupted military families in the middle of a move. Training centers have been forced to send troops home, interrupting long-term plans for professional development. Units sometimes lose access to resources needed for mission readiness. 

The news broke as we drove into Cleveland that the third shutdown of this year would happen. My family and I enjoy spending Christmas together here in the city where my wife and I met and married as Lee University students.  Far from a [military] base, most people here likely do not realize that service members are required to work whether or not there is a federal budget. Fortunately, past shutdowns have been brief enough that they have not caused financial hardship. That is not a guarantee. With lawmakers dug in on both sides, many federal military employees are spending the holiday season unsure of the next payday. 

I won’t go into the politics of what brought us here. Both sides have talking points. The fact is that every decision-maker in Washington D.C. knew this day would come. Shutdowns do not just happen. All government budgets have expiration dates. Secretary of the Army Gen. Mark Milley was right when he said last year that that Congressional failure to pass a budget is professional malpractice. 

The growing civilian-military divide provides the public increasing insulation from the reality of these partial shutdowns. Approximately 11 percent of the U.S. population served in the military during the First World War. That percentage is down to around 1 percent today. I hope that if more of the citizenry personally knew how these partial shutdowns affect their troops and those who support them, they might be less fond of it as a political tactic. 

Shutdowns were once worth the news coverage they received, as a rare event. For those in the military, shutdowns are increasingly becoming like a fifth season of the year. Government shutdowns are great for the news business. They are extremely frustrating for service members.

As you keep tally of the events in the capitol this week, remember that many federal civilians who support your military could be working without pay during the third government shutdown of 2018.

— Chase Spears

U.S. Army officer

(The letter writer attached the following information to accompany his “Letter to the Editor” to the Cleveland Daily Banner: Chase Spears is an Army officer currently studying military art and science at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He graduated from Lee University in 2001 with a degree in communication. His opinions are his own and do not represent the position of any governmental or private entity, such as the Department of Defense or Command and General Staff College. He can be reached at www.chasespears.com or on Twitter @chasemspears.)

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