With the Oct. 1 deadline about a week away, the passage of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or any further appropriation bills before the start of the new fiscal year has become highly unlikely .
A continuing resolution (CR) is the only realistic option at this point, with precious few working days before Congress departs for the campaign trail. MOAA predicted this last year after the previous CR cost DoD $19 billion.
The question now is not if another CR will be needed, but how much damage it will do. Failure to pass the NDAA, Coast Guard Authorization Act, and a spending bill directly impacts the uniformed services, retirees, survivors, and their families.
Under a CR, legacy programs limp along under last year’s funding level and new programs cannot begin. Initiatives to improve the quality of life for our community and modernization critical to our national security will be delayed.
Democrats and Republicans are likely to take opposite sides on the length of the stopgap spending bill. Republicans are eyeing a CR that would last through December, which would allow Congress the time to wrap up appropriation bills for FY 2021 during the lame-duck session. Democrats are looking at a potentially longer CR into the spring of 2021.
The best option for Congress now is to commit to a CR and a timeline for authorizations – and avoid a government shutdown. MOAA will continue to push elected officials toward a budget solution with the best possible outcome for servicemembers, veterans, and the wider military community.
While we work to secure this outcome in the short term, our long-term goals must include breaking this costly cycle of CRs. That effort will involve not just veteran and military advocacy groups, but voters expressing their frustration with their lawmakers over these damaging practices.
Good Stewards of Taxpayers’ Money?
Most of us learn the fundamental professional imperative to be a good financial steward of tax dollars early in our career in uniform. Lessons from supply rooms, maintenance yards, and flight lines tend to enforce the need to keep a schedule, particularly on inventory and preventive maintenance. Those who fail to learn these lessons typically encounter a career-altering “significant emotional event.”
With a track record of Congress rarely approving a budget on time, it appears that the timeline and imperative to keep a schedule is just not realistic for lawmakers – particularly when the accountability catalyst of a “significant emotional event” is based on the election cycle, not the fiscal cycle.
For lawmakers, it is always an option to delay a decision on appropriations or authorizations, but Election Day is a hard deadline.
Alternate Budget Approaches
So, is a two year or four-year budget cycle the answer?
Although budget predictability is badly needed to support modernization and reform, a longer budget cycle could create a different problem.
Such a stretch between budgets “could lead to disastrous yearlong CRs where representatives come and go and never have a chance to vote on a budget,” said a senior budget office official at the Pentagon.
The current system also provides leverage to appropriators for negotiating other political issues and pet projects. It is unlikely lawmakers will give up any aspect of the process they can control to support budget planning and reform.
MOAA and The Military Coalition -- a group made up of military and veterans service organizations representing more than 5.5 million members of the uniformed services, retirees, survivors, veterans, and their families -- will continue to pursue reform measures that create a stable budget and authorization schedule supporting our uniformed community and our national security.