CR for defense likely until December, but with a few anomalies

The Defense Department will once again deal with at least a short term continuing resolution to start off the new fiscal year, top House lawmakers say.

The continuing resolution will likely kick the can down the road to fund the military for 2018 to at least December. That will set up a massive pre-holiday showdown in Congress, forcing the House and Senate to raise the debt ceiling and come to a budget agreement before heading home.

That continuing resolution, which would need to pass by the end of the month, might contain small bumps for missile defense and military personnel in what are called CR anomalies, said House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas) during Sept. 6 speeches at the Defense News Conference in Arlington, Virginia.

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“If you’re going to have this dreaded thing how can you make it less bad? Looking at events in the world, putting more money into missile defense, we need more interceptors, we need more research. We need everything more in missile defense. There is no question in my mind we have got to have more money into readiness including maintenance and training to deal with some of the challenges that we’ve been seeing,” Thornberry said. “There may be a series of areas where we may be able to ameliorate the detrimental effects of a CR with, whatever you want to call them, anomalies or some additional spending.”

Granger said Thornberry’s suggestion is quite possible, especially considering the threat landscape after North Korea launched a missile over Japan and detonated a test nuclear bomb.

“Let’s take North Korea, there’s the person we don’t understand at all … [The tests] took us by surprise because we thought they were two years away from the equipment that they are showing us,” Granger said. “It’s a very serious and obvious problem and we have to be ready for it.”

Thornberry said the anomalies in the CR would likely cover costs to keep troop levels at their current marks. Last year, Congress voted to stop drawing down the size of the Army. The associated costs with that would likely be covered.

Everything else, however, would stay at the same 2017 funding until Congress can pass a 2018 defense appropriations bill.

The House already passed its defense bill, authorizing $700 billion.

The Senate defense authorization bill is expected to go to the floor this week and authorizes about the same amount.

Senate appropriators are lagging and Thornberry said there is no bill in sight.

Much of the delay is due to sequestration, which puts limits on how much Congress can spend unless it comes to a deal to raise the budget caps.

The authorization bills and House appropriations bills completely ignored the caps set by sequestration, barreling ahead and forcing Congress to come to a budget deal.

But Senate Democrats want Republicans’ help in raising the caps on domestic spending too and will likely withhold votes for the appropriations bill until they can get some kind of increase on nondefense spending.

Fiscal hawks are also standing in the way. Monetarily conservative Republicans want to keep military spending down.

Granger said she has hopes for a grand bargain that will lift all boats.

“The Speaker has done that and he’s capable of doing that. But if he can’t do it … all dollars aren’t the same. Our priority is to keep the nation safe,” Granger said.

Until a deal can be reached, DoD will have to operate under a CR.

Then again, even short-term CRs are starting to take their toll on the military, says DoD Comptroller David Norquist.

“Just another sign of fall, the kids go back to school, football season begins and the federal government operates under a CR,” Norquist said at the Defense News Conference. “The longer the CR lasts, the more damage they do. They are corrosive.”

Past CRs have grounded planes, scrapped training plans and kept programs from starting.