A group of conservative lawmakers is vowing to oppose any federal budget extension and risk a partial government shutdown unless congressional leaders promise to end all “woke” military policies and agree to other political concessions.
The move heightens already growing fears that troops and Defense Department civilians could see their paychecks stopped and their job responsibilities paused at the start of October because of political infighting. Government appropriations for the current fiscal year run out on Sept. 30.
On Monday, members of the influential House Freedom Caucus released a statement outlining demands for upcoming negotiations on the federal budget. House Republican leaders will need to appease some or all of the caucus’s 45 members to pass any budget deal, or get cooperation from Democrats on a spending plan.
Without a short-term extension of current spending levels or a long-term budget deal, numerous federal agencies — including the Department of Defense — would be forced to stop paying employees and shutter most activities.
In the past, that has meant closures for military commissaries, cancellation of non-essential military travel and training, and shuttering of most family support programs. Troops would still be required to report for duty, but non-essential Defense Department civilian workers would be sent home until a new budget deal is completed.
Reaching a short-term budget deal was expected to be Congress’ top priority when lawmakers return from their late-summer break in early September. But the process was already expected to be contentious, given strong disagreements between Republicans and Democrats in Congress on spending priorities. The Caucus demands further add to that challenge.
In a statement, caucus members said they will support a short-term budget extension only if it includes plans to “end the Left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon undermining our military’s core warfighting mission.” Group members did not specify what policies or programs that would specifically entail.
As part of the annual defense authorization bill debate earlier this summer, House Republicans passed measures that would roll back diversity and inclusion training in military units, ban the teaching of “critical race theory” at service academies, and prohibit drag shows and other LGBTQ+ support events at military bases.
Those provisions were met with opposition from House Democrats. In the Senate, where Democratic lawmakers have a majority, leaders said they would not allow such provisions to move ahead.
The House Freedom Caucus is also demanding new border security legislation and restrictions on the Justice Department as part of any short-term budget extension. Members also said they will “oppose any blank check for Ukraine in any supplemental appropriations bill.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has publicly promised not to allow any budget extension to go past early December, vowing to complete a full-year budget plan for fiscal 2024 before the end of the calendar year.
The last partial government shutdown began in December 2018 and lasted 35 days. But Defense Department personnel were largely exempt from the effects of that stalemate, because funding for military operations had been approved by Congress separate from other agencies.
The last time Defense Department civilians were furloughed for a significant stretch because of partial shutdown was in 2013. During that 13-day impasse, troops missed one paycheck, but were awarded retroactive pay after a deal was reached.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.