Pentagon Remains Optimistic for Long-Term Spending Bill Amid
Budget Showdown

Experts, military heads say another continuing resolution would severely detriment readiness

U.S. Navy Trains At Sea
USS Nimitz (CVN 68), USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) and USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Carrier Strike Groups transit in formation during a joint photo exercise / Getty Images

The Defense Department expressed optimism that Congress will pass a budget that fully funds the military by the end of the week despite unresolved divisions that forced the passage of a continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown on Friday.

Lt. Col. Eric Badger, a Pentagon spokesman, said while the Defense Department welcomed congressional passage of a stop-gap spending bill to avoid a lapse in appropriations, it expects lawmakers to pass a long-term spending package Friday.

"We are confident that Congress will work with the administration to pass a full fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill prior to the May 5th deadline," Badger told the Washington Free Beacon in an emailed statement.

Congress now has until May 5 to negotiate a more comprehensive spending bill that would fund federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year in September. Lawmakers are aiming to pass a long-term omnibus spending package next week, but sticking points remain amid bipartisan rifts.

Top military officers have advised lawmakers over the past year that another continuing resolution would severely damage readiness across all five branches. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley reprimanded Congress earlier this month for engaging in "professional malpractice" due to its repeated failure to pass a budget that fully funds the military.

Milley warned the House Armed Services Committee that another stopgap budget measure would "ultimately result in dead Americans on a future battlefield." Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein issued a similar warning in February, declaring that a budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year would do "more damage" to the service than any foreign adversary.

Congress has turned to stop-gap spending bills over the past eight years to avert government shutdowns amid deep partisan divides in Washington. The temporary budgets freeze defense funding, forcing the Pentagon to shuffle funds from modernization and hiring to support current missions.

Tom Spoehr, director of the Center for National Defense at the Heritage Foundation, said lawmakers have failed to grasp the gravity of its budget failures, particularly as relates to the military.

"They think, ‘Well because we've passed a week-long CR we've averted a problem,' but every day, every hour that they have the military operating under a CR things get worse," Spoehr told the Washington Free Beacon. "Every day that passes when you don't initiate a procurement program that you'd hoped to initiate or start a research program that you'd hoped to start, you lose that time, and our potential adversaries are proceeding on with their modernization programs where we're delaying them."

The Navy has laid out plans to cancel ship deployments and shut down half of its carrier air wings should Congress fail to pass a comprehensive spending plan next week. The Air Force meanwhile may be forced to ground all non-deploying squadrons and the Marine Corps will halt all flight operations while cutting over 2,000 Marines.

The military's aging nuclear arsenal will also face hindrances under a stopgap budget. Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress in March that the U.S. military is relying on zero-hour modernization to maintain the arsenal's deterrent capability, particularly as other countries like Russia and China are working to revolutionize their forces.

"I can't find any joy in the fact that Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution," he said. "To me, it's just a reflection of a race to the bottom in terms of our expectations of what Congress should be doing."