Congress passed a temporary spending measure on Thursday night that will keep the U.S. government running for the next two weeks while lawmakers attempt to pass a yearlong budget.
But until that budget is signed by President Trump, the military cannot change how it spends its money. It must spend the same amount, on the same items, as last year: bombs and missiles, warships and aircraft, armored vehicles and training.
“Nothing’s had a greater impact on combat readiness than CRs,” or continuing resolutions, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday before lawmakers voted to install one. “At a time where security threats are high, we really do need the predictability in the budget, certainty that we don’t have with CRs.”
She said the U.S. military has operated under a CR for three of the past nine years — 1,081 days, to be exact.
David Norquist, the Pentagon comptroller, said there are two “destructive effects” of a CR.
“One is, we’re delayed in meeting the requirements of the combatant commanders,” he said. “The other one is, there are companies out there, willing to hire people to begin to meet our requirements and, therefore, you’re not getting the benefit on the economic side, of that employment.”
Since CRs have become so commonplace these days, the Pentagon has gotten used to them, according to Todd Harrison, a budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The Pentagon is smart about this,” he said. “They already anticipate … it’s foolish to plan a contract award or a new start, production increase, something like that, in the first quarter of a fiscal year. So those kind of impacts are pretty minimal in the first quarter.”
The short-term CR passed by lawmakers this week will keep the government funded until Dec. 22 — or just about the end of the first quarter of the fiscal year. But eventually programs have to begin, multilateral exercises have to happen, things have to start getting done.
“When you start getting into the second and third quarter of the fiscal year, then it becomes hard to avoid” the effects of a CR, Harrison said. “So the longer you go, you know, past January, the longer we go on a CR, we’ll see, you know, an exponential increase in the impacts that are happening.”
The military’s top generals have warned about grounding aircraft and curtailing training if they don’t get a budget plus-up soon.
Last week at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said that lawmakers would pass a two-week continuing resolution and then a more long-term appropriations bill.
As much as Congress may have been procrastinating on budget deals, so has the executive branch, Harrison said. Obama met the statutory deadline for budget submission just two out of eight years. And when it comes to the 2018 budget, Trump’s first?
“When is the latest a president’s budget request has ever been released?” Harrison said. “It turns out: this year.”