Procrastination Station

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.

Calendar

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 legislation.

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 default.

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 negotiations. 

Send your elected officials a MOAA-suggested message urging them to reject these increases. 

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.