Members of Congress have a few short weeks to pass about a dozen appropriations bills funding the government for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, and both the House and Senate have scheduled off days throughout September. Barring a legislative sprint without recent precedent, legislators won’t meet their deadline.
It’s far from a new phenomenon: FY 1997 was the last time calendars turned to October with all appropriations legislation passed. MOAA and countless other organizations have urged lawmakers to break this budget cycle – not just to add certainty and accountability to the process, but to prevent the damage done to your benefits when the fiscal year starts without a federal budget.
Complicating the process is the need to pass legislation altering budget caps tied to sequestration – remnants of the 2011 Budget Control Act. Congress has done this on a bipartisan basis on multiple occasions since the act was passed, but it represents another hurdle in an already delayed process.
Bad and Worse
The usual Band-Aid for a missed deadline comes in the form of a continuing resolution (CR), a law which allows the government to continue operating under existing budget levels over a given time period. Congress passed five CRs last December alone, and has relied on more than 120 since 1998.
These measures may keep the lights on, but they come with significant baggage:
- Any new programs, including the significant improvements MOAA fights for each year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) process, won’t take effect. These could include TRICARE reforms, military family support efforts, and many more meaningful changes to your benefits.
- Any existing programs marked for sunset or for downsizing – programs that aren’t meeting the needs of beneficiaries, for instance, or legacy systems in need of modernization – continue under old funding requirements.
- Military leaders and planners, operating under assumptions tied to FY 2022 budget figures, are forced to adjust course, with significant readiness consequences.
What happens when the bandage expires? We last found out in December 2018, when a 34-day government shutdown began after the expiration of the year’s second CR. It marked the third shutdown of the 2000s and the 20th since 1977, per the House of Representatives’ history website.
In addition to the lack of new programs outlined above, the shutdown comes with its own consequences. The 2018-19 funding lapse was a partial one, with DoD appropriations already becoming law that September. That meant pay issued to DoD servicemembers and retirees was protected (although special pay increases and other benefits from that year’s NDAA would have to wait), but Coast Guard, U.S. Public Health Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration members and retirees weren’t so lucky.
The VA isn’t immune, either: While the 2018-19 shutdown didn’t disrupt payments, the department in 2013 warned an extended shutdown would have done just that.
Above all else, these budgetary maneuvers breed uncertainty: From the desks of top-level leaders trying to maintain a training schedule to the kitchen tables of uniformed services families, past and present, making emergency plans or scrounging for extra savings.
Help MOAA relay these concerns to your local lawmakers. As you reach out on behalf of our ongoing Advocacy in Action efforts or on other matters of concern, let your legislators know it’s time to snap this string of budget failures and make deadlines matter. MOAA will continue to advocate for Congress to meet its own budgetary timelines and seek legislation that supports scheduling discipline to meet deadlines and prevent wasteful CRs.
MOAA Looks Out For You
MOAA is committed to protecting the rights of servicemembers and their families. Lend your voice and support these efforts today. Because the larger our voice is, the greater our impact will be.