At the moment the government shutdown began, President Obama issued a message to U.S. service members and Defense Department employees blaming Congress for the government shutdown that began Tuesday and reassuring some of them they will continue to get paid.
“Unfortunately, Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility,” read the statement from the president, sent out to reporters in advance but embargoed until 12:01 AM. “It has failed to pass a budget and, as a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again… Today, I want to speak directly to you about what happens next."
Uniformed military personnel will remain on normal status and ongoing military operations will continue, the president said. Obama signed a law late Monday ensuring that uniformed military members will get their paychecks on time, he noted. Uniformed military personnel are exempt from any government shutdown.
But Defense Department civilians and contractors not directly involved in the war effort face major furloughs – as high as 50 percent – involuntary unpaid vacations that come shortly after a wave of furloughs caused by the policy known as the sequester.
“You and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we’re seeing in Congress,” Obama said to those Defense Department employees. “Your talents and dedication help keep our military the best in the world. That’s why I’ll keep working to get Congress to reopen our government and get you back to work as soon as possible. “
Obama also noted that under his presidency the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were coming to a close and that the military is downsizing in a period of fiscal strife.
“After more than a decade of unprecedented operations, we are moving off a war footing. Yes, our military will be leaner, and as a nation we face difficult budget choices going forward,” he said.
Obama pledged to fight to end the sequester policy but offered no specifics.
“We need a responsible approach that deals with our fiscal challenges and keeps our military and our economy strong,” he said. “And I’m going to make sure you stay the greatest military in the world—bar none. That’s what I’m fighting for. That’s what you and your families deserve.”
Read more on how the government shutdown impacts national security agencies here.