Military Chiefs Sound Alarm at Proposal to Hold 2022 Spending to Last Year’s Level
In Wednesday testimony to lawmakers, service leaders decry what would be a record-breaking continuing resolution.
The recent passage of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act showed overwhelming bipartisan agreement that the Pentagon needs more money. But military leaders are sounding alarm bells as the defense appropriations bill remains stalled amid larger budget fights and support grows for the notion of freezing the rest of the year’s defense spending at last year’s levels.
“A yearlong [continuing resolution] is completely new territory that we have not dealt with before that will have significant impacts across our military,” said Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said Wednesday at a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.
The Pentagon has been operating under a continuing resolution ever since fiscal 2022 began on Oct. 1. The current one expires on Feb. 18.
One by one, the uniformed leaders of each branch of the military told Congress what a year-long continuing resolution would do.
The Marine Corps would have to delay and cancel personnel transfers and reduce incentive pay and bonuses. Its modernization plans would stall, which Commandant Gen. David Berger said would increase risk.
“We’ve already divested of old and begun to reinvest in new,” Berger said, who has led his service to retire its M1A1 Abrams tanks, M88A2 Hercules Recovery Vehicles and AN/TPS-59 radars. “Under a full-year CR we will delay acquisition of critical Marine Corps force design programs.”
The Navy’s Gilday said a year-long CR would dangerously delay efforts to replace its Ohio-class nuclear submarines and upgrade its naval shipyards, just when China’s submarine technology is moving briskly ahead.
“The once-in-a-century work we are doing on our public shipyards will come to a stop,” Gilday said, including on the new Columbia-class ballistic missile subs.
“That program has no margin, as it replaces submarines that have been in the water for four decades,” he said.
Gilday also said a year-long CR would force the Navy to reduce the number of new sailors by 75 percent and halve the number of planned personnel transfers around the fleet.
Gen. C.Q. Brown, the Air Force chief of staff, said that a year-long continuing resolution would cost the service $3.5 billion; the service’s enacted 2021 budget is about $152.8 billion, according to fiscal year 2022 budget documents. It would freeze 78 “new start” programs, including the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent ICBM, which would be delayed past its planned 2029 start. The B-21 new strategic bomber would also be delayed by up to a year, Brown said.
Such a CR would likely drain $1 billion from Air Force spending on personnel, Brown said. Among other effects, training for service members in the Air National Guard and reserves “would be curtailed or canceled,” he said.
As well, training programs targeting sexual assault and diversity efforts would be eliminated “at a time when they are most needed,” Brown said. Incentive and retention bonuses would also be affected, and flight training hours would likely be reduced.
Gen. John Raymond, the chief of space operations, said a year-long continuing resolution would reduce the Space Force’s budget by $2 billion; its enacted 2021 budget is $15.4 billion according to fiscal year 2022 budget documents.
Raymond said that would force the service to cancel two of this year’s five planned national security space launches cut $800 million in classified development programs meant to deter rising threats in space from China and Russia; and reduce research and development of early missile warning and missile tracking capabilities, protected satellite communication capabilities, and precision navigation.
Gen. Joseph Martin, vice chief of staff for the Army, said a full-year CR would cost the service $12.9 billion; its 2021 budget is $177 billion. Martin said the cuts would reduce flight training hours for Army pilots, hurt the Army’s ability to send soldiers to professional military education, and shrink base operations support programs.
Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said a full-year CR would most deeply hurt weapon projects—including hypersonic missiles and space satellites—necessary to keep pace with Chinese and Russian advancements.
“The areas where you're trying to go the fastest, where you have the most change, are what's impacted the most by the requirement that you do what you did last year at the rate that you did it last year at the funding level they did [it at] last year,” McCord said.
The Pentagon’s budget is often a bargaining chip in annual federal spending negotiations. Democrats will often be OK with a defense spending increase as long as unrelated social programs get an equal boost.
But the most recent budget negotiations have been different. President Biden proposed a $715 billion budget for the Pentagon in fiscal 2022, about the same in real terms as the $705 billion Congress approved for fiscal 2021. But this year’s drive to add to the White House proposal was smoothed byDemocrat-led panels in the House and Senate, which approved a $25 billion increase to Biden’s request.
That increase has been passed by the House and Senate in the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act But Congress has yet to pass the annual appropriations bill.
Some in Congress have suggested Congress pass a yearlong continuing resolution. In December, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said: “Republicans should be in favor of CRs until Biden is out of office. That would be the proper Republican thing to do and anybody saying otherwise is deeply foolish.”
A continuing resolution freezes spending at the prior -year’s level. There’s no adjustment for inflation. New projects can’t begin. And ones that are finished cannot end. Over the past decade, Congress has passed an annual appropriations bill before the end of the fiscal year just once. Since 2010, the average continuing resolution has lasted four months. In 2019, lawmakers managed to pass the appropriations bill only after seven months of its fiscal year had elapsed.
Several factors make this year different from the past 12 of 13 years in which Congress passed a continuing resolution. First, inflation grew 7 percent in 2021, the highest increase in nearly four decades.
"If we have a year-long CR, it takes a substantial amount of money out of the Pentagon's budget," said Eric Fanning, the CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that represents defense firms and military contractors.
Another unique aspect of this year’s continuing resolution is that the fiscal 2021 budget included billions of dollars for the Afghan security forces, which collapsed last year. The Pentagon can’t spend that money on other items without Congress’ approval.
"When you're planning your budget in the Pentagon, you try to avoid doing anything new in the first quarter of the year because you just assume you're going to have a CR for at least a quarter,” said Fanning, who served as Army secretary during the Obama administration. “So there are all these disruptive elements of CR in a normal year, but when you have a year where the defense budget is going up, then you're also losing that increase."