Lawmakers on Tuesday passed a resolution to commit to providing the Pentagon with a fully authorized, on-time budget as the House and Senate continue negotiations on the respective versions of their FY '19 defense authorization bills ahead of a July 27 deadline to complete work on a conference agreement.
Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) resolution cites ongoing budget uncertainty as creating unnecessary risk for the Department of Defense. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, supported the motion while cautioning that an ongoing trend towards tax cuts will continue complicating the process of finalizing future National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) on time.
“The resolution that’s presented before us is 100 percent accurate and I completely agree with it. From one month to the next, the Pentagon does not know how much money they have to spend. That uncertainty, without a doubt, has undermined our ability to provide adequate national security for this country,” Smith said during House floor debate. “But you can’t cut taxes by $2 trillion...and then stand up and say DoD doesn’t have enough money.”
Smith pointed to recent votes to implement large tax cuts, approve a budget deal that increased spending by $500 billion and more forward with a constitutional amendment to balance the budget as creating ongoing fiscal uncertainty.
Cheney, in her response to Smith, said defense appropriations decisions have to be considered a separate issue from trying to resolve budget uncertainty.
“The challenge that our military has faced and the challenge of reliable, sufficient funding isn’t directly tied to tax policy. What we’ve got to do is decouple these things,” Cheney said.
Cheney’s resolution cites lagging modernization behind near-peer competitors as the critical reason to commit to no longer missing deadlines to pass defense spending bills.
HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) called the trend towards continuing resolutions, rather than working from full budgets, as placing a continued harm to the military.
"Continuing resolutions clearly harm our troops, and there have been far too many of them in recent years. The House has now voted to reject doing further damage this fall and to fully fund our military on time for the first time in a decade. To do anything less is a clear breach of faith with our troops and an abdication of Congress's responsibility under the Constitution,” Thornberry said in a statement.
Thornberry and Smith are leading conference negotiations on the FY '19 NDAA, alongside Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Inhofe is filling for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who is not present due to health-related reasons.
The NDAA conferees began meeting last Wednesday, with the goal of settling differences between the House’s bill and the Senate’s $716 billion version approved out of its Armed Services Committee.
“We’re still working on it. We’ll continue our discussions, but it’s going to be challenge,” Smith told Defense Daily.
Major differences between the two bills include the Senate’s provision for one new Littoral Combat Ship for the Navy against the House’s request for three. The House’s version would require the Air Force to stick with replacing JSTARS, while the Senate’s bill does not.
When asked if conferees have made any significant progress on these negotiations Smith told Defense Daily, “No, not yet.”