Pentagon Chief Warns Congress to Act - Now

Pentagon Chief Warns Congress to Act - Now

By Michael Rainey
Monday, November 28, 2022

We hope you’re getting back into the swing of things after a relaxing Thanksgiving holiday. Lawmakers return to Washington this week as they dive into what should be a busy lame-duck session before the end of the year, with government funding at the top of their to-do list.

Here’s what’s happening as we await what could be a nerve-wracking match between Iran and the U.S. at the World Cup tomorrow.

Congress Starts Its Final Sprint

With the Senate in session Monday and the House scheduled to return Tuesday, the 117th Congress has entered its final stretch.  

In a letter to colleagues Sunday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) reminded lawmakers that they have a lot to do before the year ends. “Whether it's strengthening our economy, improving our immigration system, protecting our national security, or safeguarding democracy around the world, we have important work ahead of us in December,” he wrote. “We must take full advantage of the coming weeks to deliver results for the people.”

Here are the issues Congress is expected to address before time runs out:

* Government funding: Lawmakers need to pass a funding bill by December 16, when the current stop-gap agreement expires. Ideally, lawmakers agree on a full-year spending bill for the 2023 fiscal year, which began in October. Along the way, however, they may need to pass another continuing resolution to ensure that the government does not shut down, perhaps for just a week as they hammer out the final details on an omnibus bill that could pass just before Christmas. But there’s always a chance that they won’t complete their work on time, forcing lawmakers to pass a continuing resolution that maintains government funding into next year, and perhaps all the way to the end of the fiscal year.

* Defense policy bill: The annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets recommended spending levels, has passed on a bipartisan basis for 60 years in a row. Military leaders are begging Congress to avoid the use of a continuing resolution for fiscal year 2023 defense funding, since a CR cannot increase funding levels or make adjustments for inflation (see more on that below).

* Same-sex marriage: The Senate is expected to vote this week on the Respect for Marriage Act, which would provide federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. The bill is expected to pass, though it may take time to forge a final version of the legislation.

* Electoral reform: Lawmakers from both parties hope to pass the Presidential Election Reform Act, which takes aim at the legal strategy former president Donald Trump attempted to use to overturn the 2020 election. But it’s not clear if enough Republicans will get on board.

* Ukraine aid and Covid funding: Democrats hope to fulfill the White House request for $38 billion in additional funding for Ukraine, as well as $10 billion to beef up the U.S. response to Covid-19 and other infectious diseases. But Republicans have rejected additional Covid funding and are growing skeptical about billions more in Ukraine aid.

* Debt ceiling: Democrats are still talking about raising the federal debt limit, so to deny Republicans the ability to use it as a bargaining chip in 2023. But Republicans have made it clear they will oppose any such effort, making it a long shot for the current Congress.

The bottom line: With December arriving in just a few days, lawmakers’ to-do list is looking pretty daunting. “All told, the lame duck is trending longer than many expected,” Punchbowl News said Monday. “Much of the action seems to be weighted toward mid to late December. Everything in this Congress takes longer than it should.”

Pentagon Chief Calls on Congress to Pass 2023 Spending Bill – Immediately

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is urging Congress to pass a funding bill for the military before the year is over, and warning that a failure to do so would harm national security.

Austin sent letters to Democratic leaders making his case for acting as soon as possible. In his letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Austin said the Pentagon “once again faces the threat of an extended continuing resolution (CR) to fund our programs and operations into the new year.” Calling for the passage of a full-year funding bill by the end of 2022, Austin said “failure to do so will result in significant harm to our people and our programs and would cause harm to our national security and our competitiveness.”

Another continuing resolution would freeze defense spending at last year’s levels, providing the Pentagon with “at least $3 billion per month below the level President Biden requested” for 2023, Austin said. Additionally, the failure to provide full funding could cause delays in signing new contracts, hampering long-term planning.

“The CR costs us time as well as money, and money can't buy back time, especially for lost training events,” Austin wrote. “Under the CR, Congress prohibits the military from commencing new initiatives, such as those requested by our theater commanders in the Indo-Pacific and around the world or in support of Service members and their families at home.”

More broadly, Austin criticized Congress for its inability to provide defense funding in a reliable manner. “We must break this pattern of extensive inaction,” he wrote. “We can’t outcompete China with our hands tied behind our backs three, four, five or six months of every fiscal year.”

The bottom line: Austin made it clear that defense leaders view funding delays as harmful – and that Congress has the means to end those delays. “I strongly urge you to act decisively – now – to meet America's needs and support our forces who support all of us, by immediately reaching a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on full-year 2023 appropriations for DoD and all agencies,” he wrote. “As I have said before, it's not only the right thing to do, it's the best thing you can do for our Nation's defense.”

Quote of the Day

“I don’t lie awake at night worrying about the bad legislation they are going to pass. Because I don’t think they’re going to pass it.”

— Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, talking to Politico’s Sarah Ferris about the difficulties Republicans may face as they try to operate with a slim majority in the House in the next Congress. Republicans are expected to have a majority of just four or five seats, which Ferris says is the smallest margin at the beginning of a congressional term since 1931.

Some Democrats have expressed doubts about Republicans’ ability to get much done legislatively with such little room for error, given the potential for ideological division and conflict within the GOP caucus. “They’re going to be fraught with fractures and friction and challenges and apostates,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “I wish them well in trying to manage that crowd.”

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