FY 2018 Budget: Government Shutdown or Continuing Resolution?

January 12, 2018

If Congress fails to come to an agreement about funding soon, a government shutdown will occur at the end of next week.

Despite passing a defense bill in December, lawmakers have been unable to figure out how to fund DoD without triggering $150 billion in statutory budget cuts. The result has been a series of stopgap spending bills known as continuing resolutions (CRs).

It looks like Congress is about to do the same thing, yet again.

Details are emerging of a fourth CR, which would last until mid-February. If this happens, “the government will be operating on autopilot for more than a third of the fiscal year … leaving agencies in financial limbo as they struggle just to keep the lights on,” according to Paul Krawzak from CQ Roll Call.

The budget Band-Aid will give lawmakers time to come up with a two-year spending agreement. The agreement will lift spending caps on DoD.

Early reports indicate the two-year deal will provide an additional $250 billion in defense funding. The irony, however, is the money might arrive too late for defense leaders to spend it before the end of the fiscal year.

Because of the lead time it takes to properly plan, equip, and execute missions, some of the things DoD wants to spend money on this year will be delayed until next year.

In the meantime, however, the military will continue to operate at FY 2017 funding levels.

CRs are extremely disruptive to federal agencies because it places them in the position of planning in short-term increments versus executing the long-term budget plans they have already developed.

For DoD, the absence of long-term funding can mean:

  • Planned force-level changes (increases or decreases) must be put on hold; 
  • DoD is prevented from adjusting funding away from programs that were to be terminated or downsized, wasting millions of dollars; and
  • Retired pay and survivor annuities would be paid on time, since those are mandatory spending programs that aren't subject to annual appropriations.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, since 2010, DoD has spent more than 36 months operating under a CR. That means an entire generation of servicemembers has had two constants: sustained conflict and fiscal uncertainty.

 

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