But when the Pentagon ultimately gets a bill — and the amount of funding it will contain — remains an open question. Congress’ recent track record on defense spending does not leave a lot of hope that the Pentagon’s fiscal 2014 funding will be settled anytime soon.
The House-passed defense spending bill for fiscal 2014 (HR 2397), as well as the Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the measure (S 1429), blows past mandatory budget caps by close to $50 billion.
The longest the Pentagon has operated under a continuing resolution was for just over half of fiscal 2011, according to Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The second longest was two years later, when the Defense Department received its fiscal 2013 appropriations (PL 113-6) in late March.
Pentagon officials have made clear they do not want to operate under a stopgap resolution any longer than necessary.
“All they do is allow the government to keep on functioning, or perhaps dysfunctioning, as it were,” Army Secretary John M. McHugh said last month at the annual Army conference in Washington.
Under a CR, the military must fund programs at the previous year’s levels, meaning that dollars are not aligned with spending plans for the current fiscal year.
The Ohio-class replacement is just one of many programs that would be affected, but it is among the most dramatic and could ultimately push back the plans to begin production in 2021. The program has already been delayed by two years thanks to earlier budget cuts.
Another casualty of a yearlong CR would be new-start programs for which the department would be prohibited from awarding a contract under the stopgap bill. Most major defense programs are already under contract, but one major new start that cannot begin under a CR is a large support ship the Navy hoped to buy for $524 million this year.
Dozens of smaller new-start contracts will similarly be affected. Army acquisition chief Heidi Shyu told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces on Oct. 23 that the CR delays 59 new programs within the Army’s budget alone.
Limits on new starts include military construction and other infrastructure improvements the services had planned for the new fiscal year. It would also delay the overhaul and refueling of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier scheduled to begin this year.
The threat of across-the-board sequester cuts beginning in January — which would bring defense spending down to $498 billion, which is $20 billion less than provided in the CR — only complicates the outlook for defense spending.
“It would have a hugely negative effect on our security,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said.
But Levin, like Mikulski and Reid, also signaled that defense cannot be considered separately from other government agencies.
The double whammy of a CR and sequester would also have a “hugely negative effect on education, a number of health care clinics and a lot of other things,” Levin added.