The shutdown and the Guard
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., spoke on the Senate floor Friday morning about the impact of the government shutdown on the nation’s readiness, the National Guard and veterans. The Vermont National Guard earlier this week announced more than 500 furloughs of technicians and guardsmen on active orders due to the government shutdown. Here is his speech to the Senate:
We have heard a lot over the last few days here on this floor about the costly impacts of this needless government shutdown. Of course, the solution to reopening the government is an easy one: the Senate has passed a resolution that would reopen the government while we work on a meaningful compromise to address our budget and our national debt.
But the House of Representatives has decided on a different approach. The irony of their parochial, bit-by-bit funding proposal is not lost on the hundreds of Vermonters who were given furlough notices on Tuesday, or the veterans in Vermont and across this country who fear the long-term impacts of a government shutdown. Rather than bringing the Senate-passed CR to the House floor for a vote — a vote that would end this shutdown — a handful of extreme ideologues in the House are deciding — arbitrarily — who is worth supporting in this crisis, and when. They are holding the government hostage, and with it the millions of Americans impacted by this shutdown.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony (Thursday) from the director of national intelligence that the danger to our country from threats increases every day the shutdown continues, as our readiness and preparedness declines. That was evident on Tuesday when the Department of Defense released guidance to the National Guard that it would need to issue massive furloughs.
That included 450 technicians of the Vermont National Guard and an additional 100 Vermont Guardsmen who were recalled from active orders. The Vermont National Guard has also been forced to cancel a long anticipated drill this weekend. That is where 3,000 members of the Vermont Guard come together for joint training. This will result in a decrease in readiness and impacts our national security — just the type of scenario that Director Clapper mentioned.
Some of the 450 military technicians in Vermont who received furlough notices Tuesday are at home without pay, after forfeiting 20 percent of their pay for six weeks this summer because of sequestration. I have heard from some of them. They have called and emailed my office. They are asking why their service to the country and their local communities, which is so essential to our military readiness and to our ability to respond to crises like natural disasters, can be so readily dismissed. I could not agree more with them.
I believe that the number of furloughs in the National Guard was a misinterpretation by the Department of Defense. This week, the House and Senate adopted legislation to ensure that members of our Nation’s military receive their pay, despite the government shutdown. I supported this effort in part because the legislation specifically mentioned the Guard and reserves. Today, I am joining Senator Manchin and others on a letter asking the Secretary of Defense to reconsider the Department’s interpretation.
The government shutdown also affects our veterans — including the nearly 50,000 veterans who call Vermont home. This shutdown is not how we thank our veterans and military members for their service. This is not how we show them our support.
I have received phone calls and emails from Vermonters about the impact of the government shutdown on services for veterans. Veterans across the country know that while their benefits payments will continue to be made in the near-term, furloughs within the Veterans Administration are unfair to our veterans who, after their service, were promised our support. Our veterans and military members, including those of our National Guard, should never question our commitment to their well-being, especially after all they have sacrificed to ensure ours.
We are not going to solve this problem by adopting piecemeal approach, meant to win headlines and promote the blame game. That is no way to run a government. The Senate already passed a bill, a clean continuing resolution, to keep our government running, and to fulfill our commitments. It’s time to stop picking winners and losers. If we are serious about caring for our servicemembers and veterans, we need to get serious about moving beyond this shutdown.
Sen. Patrick Leahy is Vermont’s senior senator and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.