Mike Needham

Time and time again, it is clear that the defenders of big government failed to learn the lessons of November. Even now, they remain obstinate, denigrating Americans who are actively engaging in the political process. Their strategy is to put politics first. Refusing to pass a real alternative to the House-passed H.R.1 spending bill is part of their political plan to shut down the government. As Howard Dean said, he’d be “quietly rooting” for a government shutdown if he still led the DNC.

Amazingly, America’s military is already suffering the effects of absurd stopgap funding measures and multiple overseas commitments. The Defense Department is already raiding various accounts to pay for personnel costs. Stopgap funding measures also mean forced reductions in maintenance and abrupt change-of-stations for military families.

If Congress does not come to some sort of an agreement on spending for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, many government functions will shutter and the burden on our military will increase. New draft guidance from the Defense Department suggests “all military personnel will continue in normal duty,” meaning they will continue to fight and serve with honor in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond. However, they “will serve without pay” during that time.

President Obama and Senator Harry Reid have an obligation to explain to our military why they have refused to come to the table and either pass H.R. 1 through the Senate or pass an alternative. If they are joining Howard Dean in “rooting” for a shutdown for political reasons then we should let the American people decide whether or not they think Republican demands to cut $61 billion out of a $1.65 trillion deficit are “draconian.” President Obama will lose that debate. But he should not be allowed to use our military families as a pawn in that fight.

Americans do not join the military to get rich; they join to serve the country. In the event of a shutdown, defense officials have suggested they could meet the April 15 payday, but not the April 29 payday. Military life, especially for young families, is not easy and missing a paycheck only increases the burden. Although most on-base functions will continue – dining halls, gyms and daycare centers – base commissaries might close, which would substantially increase costs for military families.

We need to put our troops before Washington politics.

Although 2011 is much different than 1995, President Obama should follow President Clinton’s reluctant lead. Pass a defense appropriations bill and put the troops ahead of politics. Although the defense spending contained in H.R.1 is not ideal, it did provide funding for our military for the remainder of the year. At a bare minimum, Congress should send that element of H.R.1 to the President’s desk, immediately.

We can fight about spending cuts, tax increases and entitlement reform all we want – and we need to – but we should make sure our troops are taken care of.

Mike Needham

Mike Needham is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legislation that promotes freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.