With campaign season behind us and fewer than three weeks before the stopgap measure to fund the government expires, lawmakers have little time not only to get a defense authorization bill across the finish line, but also to agree on an emergency COVID-19 package and the 12 spending bills required to fund federal agencies for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
[NDAA ACTION ITEMS: Stop Cuts to Military Medicine | Expand Benefits for Tens of Thousands of Vietnam Veterans]
So, what is the holdup?
Up to this point, congressional leaders have been working to keep the emergency aid and federal spending bills separate. However, negotiations have stalled over several contentious issues in the relief package, including the topline figure of over nearly $2 trillion proposed by the administration. Leaders are struggling with several issues, such as national standards for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and research; paycheck and business protections; unemployment insurance; relief for low-income workers; and aid to states for fighting the pandemic.
The longer Congress puts off passing an emergency aid package, the more likely lawmakers will be forced to deal with both pandemic aid and federal spending in one large omnibus appropriations bill. Such a move makes it even harder for lawmakers to agree on what will be a multitrillion-dollar package, likely teeing up another continuing resolution to fill the gap, kicking the decision into the new year — or worse, triggering a partial government shutdown until Congress and the administration can reach an agreement.
A Lamer Lame-Duck Session?
The House is way ahead of the Senate, passing 10 federal spending bills back in July. Senate appropriators have failed to push a single bill through committee because of partisan disagreements over amendments.
While congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle continue to signal an emergency aid agreement is achievable, many aren’t sure there’s enough time to close the gap on a multitude of contentious issues. Others see too much on Congress’ plate and too little time to get it done during the lame-duck session. Still others will be on their way home for good thanks to the election results; some defeated lawmakers may have little to no desire to complete the work they began before the election.
On a Brighter Note ...
“The prospects for the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization are fairly bright,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said during an Oct. 29 interview with an independent nonprofit.
Smith said issues with the bill are not partisan and that far fewer areas require negotiation than in last year’s bill. He did note frustration with negotiators not wanting to meet on the bill until after the election, which significantly limits the time to get the package done.
On the issue of defense spending ... well, that is another matter.
“Some in Congress want to decrease the defense budget, others want to build a military big enough to take on Russia and China,” Smith said in the interview. What is clear, he said, “is the United States is spending more money than it is taking in, and the entire federal budget needs to be examined and realigned.”
The Clock Is Ticking
So here we are. Americans and uniformed servicemembers and veterans, their families, and survivors are waiting to see what happens next.
With the Nov. 3 voting over, it is unclear how quickly lawmakers will get back to work and what they are able to accomplish in a short period of time. What is known is the pain and suffering that will ensue in communities across America, including our own uniformed service and veteran communities, if there are further delays in passing the emergency aid package, the defense authorization bill, and federal appropriations measures in full.
MOAA needs our members and readers to stay alert on what is happening to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the appropriations process. It is important for us not to lose the hard-fought momentum we’ve gained on the critical provisions included the NDAA, yet funding our national defense is just as critical and may require taking on a two-front battle in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, keep pressing Congress to pass the NDAA, and let your officials know it is time for lawmakers to finish their work in the 116th Congress.