There is an overwhelming likelihood that the fiscal year 2020 budget cycle will launch with a continuing resolution, and the odds grow greater if the presidential budget release is delayed, analysts said Jan. 31.
Speaking on a panel at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, in-house experts said despite the political ire drummed up against the current shutdown and short-term CR affecting the Department of Homeland Security, there is little hope that next year’s budget cycle will run smoothly.
The FY ‘20 presidential budget request was initially slated to be released Feb. 4, but defense officials have said it will be pushed back at least a week, with reports stating it could be released sometime in March. Mark Cancian, senior advisor for CSIS’ International Security Program, said that if the request is more than five weeks later than originally planned, that increases the chances of a continuing resolution occurring, at least initially.
Todd Harrison, CSIS director of defense budget analysis and director of the think tank’s Aerospace Security Project, said the odds are “90 percent or higher that we start FY ’20 on a CR” as Congress will need to come to an agreement on whether to lift the caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act before passing any appropriations for the year.
“I don’t think they’re going to get serious about a deal on those budget caps until they get close” to the current deadline of Jan. 15, 2020, Harrison added. “They have got almost a year to wait, and so I don’t think they’ll get that serious on negotiating.”
Harrison noted that new House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) has indicated he plans to tackle the BCA caps “right now.” Congress suspended the caps for military spending over the past two fiscal years.
Andrew Hunter, director of CSIS’ Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group, highlighted one wildcard that could change the probability of a CR in October. Lawmakers are now pushing bipartisan bills aimed at abolishing government shutdowns and pushing for new legislation that would automatically keep the government running even after the fiscal year ends. Should one of those efforts become law, that could push appropriators to develop funding bills that actually have a chance of passing in Congress on time, rather than dig their heels in for a bill that will be rejected by the other party and be drawn out over a CR.
“Historically, appropriations committees have been a little bit sanguine … about the fact that sooner or later, the committee will have its way [and] they’re going to pass a budget,” Hunter said. “If you abolish shutdowns, if we establish mechanisms that automatically keep the government running in the absence of appropriations legislation, they no longer have that confidence, … That’s a very different dynamic.”
Another wild card that could affect budget negotiations could be Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s push to shift overseas contingency operations funds into the base defense budget, said Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow and defense budget analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute who moderated the panel. “I think [that] will poison the well before they even get underway,” she noted.