September 4, 2015
Despite pledges to return to normal
order, it is increasingly unlikely that lawmakers will be able to pass a series
of annual appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year.
The series of looming deadlines have
led some legislators to call the coming months an ‘awful autumn.’
When Congress returns from the
August recess next week, lawmakers must work quickly on several big-ticket
items. Unfortunately, House and Senate lawmakers are only both in session for a
handful of days in September.
Lawmakers are trying to find ways to
untie their hands from sequestration, a self-imposed punishment that set
unrealistic budget caps. Defense planners want exemptions from the caps, but
opponents say that any increases in defense spending must be met with similar
increases to domestic programs.
The current defense budget is $38
billion over sequestration’s limit and the president vowed to veto the bill if
it is sent to him. Instead of passing legislation that is doomed to fail,
Congress will most likely need to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the
government running, and prevent a shutdown.
A CR will keep the government funded
at current levels while Congress tries to come up with a funding solution. Some
lawmakers hinted that a CR could last a full year, an unprecedented length for such
Preventing a government shutdown is
a top priority for most Republican leaders, mindful of the political damage that
followed previous shutdowns.
After the new fiscal year, Congress
will have to shift to other matters: raising the debt ceiling, passing a
highway funding bill, and finalizing a defense bill that has some of the
biggest personnel changes in a generation.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told
Congress earlier this summer that the debt ceiling would have to be raised by
the end of October. Technically, the government already hit the debt ceiling,
but the treasury department is using “extraordinary measures” to prevent a
Shortly before the August recess,
Congress passed a short-term federal highway bill.
Despite making sweeping changes to
the military retirement system, lawmakers seemed poised to quickly act on the
defense bill. However, an eleventh hour dispute over TRICARE pharmacy fees halted
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One issue seemingly off the table is
a nuclear deal with Iran, with the Senate announcing it has enough votes to
move forward with the president’s plan. For an analysis of the deal, check out
the September edition of Military Officer.
Any of these issues alone would be
difficult to navigate with an agreeable Congress, but with such divides on
these issues, even a slight misstep could lead to another shutdown.
With so much work ahead, awful
autumn has the potential to turn into a woeful winter.