Trump: Military Funding Top Priority in Avoiding Government Shutdown

President Trump is greeted by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as he arrives at the Pentagon on Jan. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Trump is greeted by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as he arrives at the Pentagon on Jan. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Donald Trump went to the Pentagon on Thursday to send a message that funding the military is his top priority in any deal to avoid a government shutdown at midnight Friday over Congress' failure to pass a budget.

"A government shutdown will be devastating to our military … something the Dems care very little about," Trump said in a Tweet before leaving the White House for closed discussions at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

But an earlier Tweet from Trump threatened to blow up efforts by House Republicans to craft yet another continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government in operation through Feb. 16.

In that Tweet, the president said, "CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!"

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He was referring to the Children's Health Insurance Program for low-income families, which would be extended for another six years under a CR that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said he expects to be voted upon by the House on Thursday night.

At a midday news conference, Ryan said he is confident the CR will pass despite Trump's Tweet.

Ryan said he had spoken with the president moments before, and "I feel like we're in a good place," adding that Trump "fully supports passing what we're bringing to the floor today."

The speaker also echoed Trump in stressing that funding the military at nearly $700 billion for fiscal 2018 is critical. "Our men and women in uniform need our help," he said.

A simple majority in the Republican-controlled House is needed to pass the CR, but 60 votes are needed in the Senate, where the Republicans have a 51-49 edge.

"A continuing resolution is not good for the military, but what's worse for the military is a shutdown," Ryan said.

To clear up confusion on where Trump stands on the proposed CR, the White House later issued a statement backing Ryan.

"The president supports the continuing resolution introduced in the House," the statement said. "However, as the deal is negotiated, the president wants to ensure our military and national security are funded. He will not let it be held hostage by Democrats."

Conversely, the Democrats have charged that Trump and congressional Republicans are attempting to hold hostage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, under which about 800,000 immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children can get permission to work and go to school in the U.S.

At the Pentagon, Trump -- joined by Vice President Mike Pence -- said, "We're here to support our country's military. If the country shuts down, which could very well be, the budget should be handled a lot differently than it's been handled over the last long period of time -- many years."

The nation has operated on a variety of CRs over the last nine years. The Pentagon has repeatedly made the case that CRs squeeze the time frames in which planning, acquisitions and improvements in readiness can be implemented.

In a shutdown, "the group that loses big would be the military," Trump said. "And we're never letting our military lose at any point. We're going to fund our military. We're going to have a military like we've never had before because we just about -- just about never needed our military more than now."

Should Congress pass a CR to avoid a shutdown, it would be the fourth since fiscal 2018 began Oct. 1 without appropriations for a budget in place.

Last month, Trump issued an executive order granting a 2.4 percent pay raise to the military and a 1.9 percent raise for federal workers. The first paychecks including the raises went out Jan. 15 but, in the event of a shutdown, "no one gets paid," according to Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist.

During the shutdown of 2013, which lasted 16 days, Congress passed an emergency bill to continue paying the military. Another emergency bill would be needed to pay the troops if the current CR proposal fails.

According to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, "The Department of Defense has no legal authority to pay any personnel -- military or civilian -- for the days during which the government is shut down. The shutdown will not affect payments to retirees and annuitants as those funds come from a retirement trust fund."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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