Defense, veterans groups press for new appropriations

Impasse in setting a new Pentagon budget threatens their programs, representatives say

A maintenance worker repairs a Black Hawk helicopter at a Utah National Guard facility in Kearns in 2020.  (George Frey/Getty Images file photo)
A maintenance worker repairs a Black Hawk helicopter at a Utah National Guard facility in Kearns in 2020. (George Frey/Getty Images file photo)
Posted November 12, 2021 at 5:03pm

Representatives of America’s defense industry and its veterans warned congressional leaders this month of the dire effects of lawmakers’ continuing failure to enact fiscal 2022 appropriations. 

The three letters from associations and advocacy groups to leading lawmakers, obtained by CQ Roll Call, are the latest sign of deep concern in national security circles about Congress’ repeated reliance on continuing resolutions, which have funded government operations for parts of 12 of the last 13 fiscal years. 

The missives also demonstrate the gathering pressure on Congress to pass in coming weeks the fiscal 2022 spending bills, with the Dec. 3 expiration date of the current CR fast approaching. And they warn specifically that, to the degree the current CR lasts, it could waste billions of dollars for military programs and cut or delay health care services for veterans in the months ahead.

“The limbo caused under CRs wastes precious time and money our nation cannot recover,” wrote Hawk Carlisle, National Defense Industrial Association president and CEO, and Arnold Punaro, chairman of its board, in one of the letters, a Nov. 1 missive to top appropriators of both parties in both chambers. 

$37 billion defense raise on hold

Continuing resolution laws require that spending stay at current levels, with no new starts or production increases, except as explicitly allowed in so-called anomalies in the law itself.  

The Defense Department has never operated on a full-year CR. While it has gotten used to shorter-term CRs, they still cause a misalignment of money and priorities. 

By freezing spending at fiscal 2021 levels, the Pentagon is not getting a proposed raise of $37 billion or more, the minimum amount supported this year by a bipartisan congressional consensus. 

Not only does the CR provide less than Congress is poised to appropriate overall, it allocates money in a way that is not consistent with the current objectives of either party. Under the current stopgap spending bill, for instance, the Pentagon is receiving the fiscal 2021 level of spending for overseas military operations — $69 billion, including $3.3 billion for Afghan security forces — despite the August U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Many Republicans want still more for defense programs than the proposed $37 billion raise. 

In the House’s spending bills, nine of which have passed in that chamber, Democrats proposed increasing defense spending by about 2 percent over fiscal 2021, while nondefense accounts would get a 16 percent boost. 

The Senate, for its part, has yet to pass a single spending measure. Senate Democrats have unveiled bills that would increase defense spending over the fiscal 2021 level by the $37 billion, or 5 percent, with domestic and foreign aid accounts growing by 13 percent.

But Republicans, led Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, want defense to go up by at least as much as nondefense programs. They also oppose Democratic policy provisions pertaining to abortion and other issues.

‘Strain’ on defense companies

With negotiations at a standstill, Carlisle and Punaro, the leaders of the National Defense Industrial Association, wrote appropriators to warn that CRs deter capable companies from doing business with defense and intelligence agencies. 

Without being able to launch new programs during the term of this or any CR, these companies might hire people to work on new initiatives and either pay them to be idle or let them go, they wrote. 

The defense industry leaders asked appropriators to reach a bipartisan agreement on defense and nondefense spending and to adopt a two-year budget so agencies and companies can stabilize planning. 

“Delayed new starts and initiatives place a strain on companies and their workforce, particularly as they recalibrate operations to a post-pandemic normal,” they wrote. “Our nation’s competitors face no similar challenges, putting us at a competitive disadvantage, particularly with emerging technologies, and place our supply chains at increasing risk, something we cannot afford after nearly two years of pandemic impacts.”

Separately, Eric Fanning, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, wrote a Nov. 2 letter to Senate and House leaders urging them to provide fiscal 2022 funds for all government programs by Dec. 3.

Fanning decried the “waste and unnecessary disruption” wrought by CRs and said they send “the wrong signal” to industry.

New starts and production increases that are critical to national defense cannot begin unless an anomaly is written into law, he said, yet such anomalies are rarely granted. Between 2010 and 2020, only 3 percent of 1,258 Pentagon requests for anomalies were included in CRs, he wrote. 

Fanning, like Carlisle and Punaro, noted that the pandemic took a toll on the defense sector, and reliable appropriations are consequently at even more of a premium than usual.

“More than ever, businesses across all industries need predictability and consistency,” he wrote.

Billions in vets benefits at risk

Meanwhile, eight veterans advocacy groups, in a Nov. 10 letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate, urged them to agree to the level of funding for veterans’ programs agreed to by the Senate Appropriations Committee in August. 

That $124.4 billion Milcon-VA measure would add more than $11 billion to spending on veterans and military construction programs in fiscal 2022 compared to the prior year.

The veterans leaders urged the Senate to complete consideration of the fiscal 2022 bills “so that veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors have timely access to all the benefits, services and medical care they have earned.”

They said a full-year CR would result in a $7 billion cut to mandatory compensation and pension benefits, mostly because Congress expanded the list of diseases that are presumed to have been caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam. 

The advocates warned, too, of delays in the delivery of other critical health benefits.

The letter was signed by leaders of Disabled Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Legion, the Military Officers Association of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Wounded Warrior Project. 

Threats and money mismatched

Another sign of the mounting pressure on appropriators emerged Friday when the White House Office of Management and Budget issued its own statement urging passage of the fiscal 2022 spending bills. 

At the Defense Department, the White House officials wrote, a full-year CR would misalign defense funds “in a manner inconsistent with evolving threats and the national security landscape.” 

The officials underscored adverse effects of a potential full-year CR on hypersonic missile development and delays to over 114 new military construction projects. The White House document also said that “the 2.7 percent pay increase the President has proposed for military service members would come at the expense of $2 billion in cuts to the rest of the defense budget.”

House and Senate appropriators met Nov. 2 to try to resolve their disputes over spending plans, but Shelby emerged from the meeting to say that negotiators remain at an “impasse.”