Chuck Hagel is channeling his inner Nancy Pelosi.
The defense secretary’s decision Saturday to recall about 350,000 Pentagon civilian employees furloughed by the government shutdown is no doubt a comfort to the people who are suddenly turning out to be “essential” to the national defense after all.
But for rest of the country, it just shows how far the Obama administration will go to inflict pain on those without pull.
Hagel’s memo announcing the recalls said the Pay Our Military Act that passed just before the shutdown took effect gave him the authority to decide which employees’ “responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members,” according to USA Today.
And that turns out to be about 350,000 civilians who work for the Pentagon – or about half of the total 800,000 federal employees who got furloughed by the shutdown that started Tuesday.
There is so little fat in the civilian defense apparatus that virtually all of its workforce is vital to the “morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members?”
Is our military really that damn fragile? What do we do if there’s, say, a real big war?
(And this comes after the House passed a bill Saturday to ensure back pay for all federal workers once they return to work anyway, so the whole exercise is really amounting to a paid vacation in October for our long-suffering, unionized public servants.)
It sounds a lot like Minority Leader Pelosi, D-San Francisco, when she told CNN’s Candy Crowley in the pre-shutdown days that the “cupboard is bare” in terms of cuts to the federal budget. “There’s no more cuts to make,” she said.
All federal spending is sacrosanct, Pelosi declares. Virtually all Pentagon civilian workers are absolutely essential, Hagel decides. And every one of our federal employees is worth every dime we’re paying them for not working.
Meanwhile, normal, average Americans – not just those octogenarian “Honor Flight” World War II vets – are getting locked out of their national parks and memorials; taxpayers aren’t getting refunds from the “shutdown” IRS (which is still collecting taxes); and government websites – many not staffed by humans and paid for already anyway – are dark, with plaintive, passive-aggressive notes like the one at census.gov that says its lack of service is “due to the lapse in government funding.”
But Chuck Hagel has decided that 350,000 people who happen to work for him at the Pentagon — a little under the entire population of Miami – simply cannot be done without.
He’s got the Pelosi perspective.