Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday a potential year-long continuing resolution would lead to “enormous, if not irreparable, damage” to Pentagon priorities, citing an impact worth potentially billions of dollars if Congress is unable to pass full spending bills.

Austin said a full-year CR would represent a “budget cut – and a significant one at that” — may result in more than $5 billion in cuts to the Pentagon’s operating accounts, delays to over 100 military construction projects and halting progress on research and development efforts in areas such as hypersonics and artificial intelligence.

Low angled view of the U.S. Capitol East Facade Front in Washington, DC.

 “A full-year CR would be a fiscally unsound way of funding the Department of Defense and government as a whole.  It would misalign billions of dollars in resources in a manner inconsistent with evolving threats and the national security landscape, which would erode the U.S. military advantage relative to China, impede our ability to innovate and modernize, degrade readiness, and hurt our people and their families. And it would offer comfort to our enemies, disquiet to our allies, and unnecessary stress to our workforce,” Austin said in a statement.

The defense secretary’s remarks arrive after the latest CR was signed on Friday to keep the government open through Feb. 18, while the measure locks in funding at last year’s spending levels and prohibits the department from starting new programs (Defense Daily, Dec. 3). 

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said over the weekend he believes there’s a 50/50 chance Congress is able to pass full appropriations bills by the new Feb. 18 deadline.

“The most important thing is that between now and Feb. 18 to get all of the appropriators in a room and actually start negotiating. We cannot start negotiating from the premise of ‘you have to agree with everything I want and then we’ll sit down and talk,’” Smith said during a panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California. “The next 30 days isn’t the issue. It’s about now to Feb. 18. We know what we have to do. And I’d say it’s 50/50 whether or not we’re able to do it.” 

Smith said the delay in passing spending bills and the increasingly routine nature of operating under CRs is due to individual lawmakers “focused on winning the message of the day” rather than collective action to get bills completed.

“Everybody’s got their priority and their mission is to force that priority by whatever damage is done. There’s not as many people in Congress that are focused on knowing that we have to pass appropriations bills, we have to pass [the NDAA],” Smith said. “The days of us being able to go off into a room, cut the deal, come back and everybody ‘Yeah, good. Let’s vote and go home’ are gone.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, recently criticized Republicans’ “unprecedented obstruction” in moving spending bills forward and said a potential year-long CR could amount to a $70 billion impact on the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs (Defense Daily, Nov. 22).