Congressional Republican leaders have agreed to beef up spending for military readiness and anti-terrorist efforts around the globe in the coming months as part of another stop-gap spending bill being rushed through Congress to avoid a government shutdown on Friday when the current temporary budget authority is set to expire.
A new continuing resolution covering $1.1 trillion of discretionary spending will contain an additional $8 billion for the Pentagon above its current level for base operations and overseas combat, according to a House Appropriations Committee document. About $2 billion of the additional money was earmarked “to address some of the department’s readiness concerns,” according to a committee spokesperson.
But the GOP-controlled Congress largely ignored Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recent warning that lawmakers are jeopardizing national security and the development of the next generation of weaponry by continuing to require the Pentagon and other government departments and agencies to operate under last year’s spending levels.
Whether the latest continuing resolution or “CR” can pass the House is an open question, however. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters Thursday that she wasn’t confident there were enough votes to pass the omnibus measure, even with President Obama backing it, according to The Hill.
A handful of conservative House Republicans has complained there is too much spending in the bill. And many Democrats charge that the GOP gained too many concessions, including a provision to end a decades-old ban on crude oil exports.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently agreed to operate under another continuing resolution through next spring, to give President-elect Donald Trump time to settle into the White House and influence the shape and policies of the final package for the fiscal year that began last Oct. 1.
In a memo sent to Congress Nov. 29, Carter strongly protested rumors at the time that Congress was preparing to pass a new CR through May. “A short-term CR is bad enough, but a CR through May means DoD would have to operate under its constraints for two-thirds of the fiscal year,” he said. “This is unprecedented and unacceptable, especially when we have so many troops operating in harm's way. I strongly urge Congress to reject this approach.”
A continuing resolution means that current spending levels would continue and that most new projects and programs could not begin. At least seven new weapons programs were facing disruptions because of continuing resolutions, based on a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments study.
“The Defense Department and other agencies are straight-jacketed by being held to last year’s funding levels for their programs,” Katherine Blakeley, a research fellow at the non-partisan CSBA, said in an interview. “If you’re the Defense Department, you might get about the same amount of money, but it might be allocated in the wrong way.”
The Pentagon and the Energy Department spend a combined $600 billion annually on defense-related activities, nuclear weaponry, personnel and contracting. This is the eighth year in a row that Congress has failed to complete work on all major appropriations bills for the coming year and has resorted to a series of continuing resolutions, or CRs, to keep the government operating and avoid another shutdown.
The new CR that needs to be passed by Friday extends funding for operations for most federal agencies, programs and services until April 28 – or nearly five months from now.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY), a stickler for “regular order” in the legislative process, has gone along with the leadership’s demands to continue to operate the government on a makeshift basis.
However, he stressed in a statement that “this type of short-term spending absolutely should not be the final answer to funding the federal government for the year.” Congress has yet to complete work on 11 of the dozen annual spending bills that must be passed to operate the government.
Rogers said those bills still must be approved “to ensure the proper and responsible use of tax dollars, to provide necessary resources for important programs and services, and to hold federal agencies accountable to the American people.”
The new CR would stay within the overall discretionary spending cap for defense and domestic programs of $1.07 trillion that was mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Among other key provisions of the new continuing resolution:
*$4.1 billion in disaster relief funding, including for the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and other floods, drought and severe weather.
* $170 million to cover infrastructure and health needs in Flint, Mich., and other communities that have suffered from contaminated drinking water. This funding includes grants for replacing corroded municipal pipes and for treating and preventing lead poisoning in children.
* $872 million for the “21st Century Cures Act of 2016” to bolster critically needed medical research, expedited prescription drug approval, and anti-drug abuse programs. The package includes $20 million for the Food and Drug Administration’s Innovation account, $352 million for the National Institutes of Health Innovation account and $500 million for states to respond to the opioid abuse epidemic. About $1.8 billion of the NIH funds will go to Vice President Joe Biden’s so-called “moon shot” cancer research initiative that he dedicated to the memory of his late son Beau Biden, 46, who died of brain cancer in 2015.