Senate leaders announced Feb. 7 that they have reached a bipartisan agreement to lift congressionally mandated spending caps in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and end a months-long budget impasse.

The deal, outlined on the Senate floor by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), would prevent the return of across-the-board budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. If approved by the full House and Senate later this week, it also would pave the way for Congress to finish its FY 2018 appropriations bills over the next six weeks. Capitol at night---cropped---MS photo

The pact will “lift the spending caps for defense and urgent domestic priorities far above current spending levels,” Schumer said. “There are one or two final details to work out, but all the principles of the agreement are in place.”

Compared to the current budget caps, the agreement would give defense an additional $80 billion in FY 2018 and $85 billion in FY 2019. Domestic programs would get an extra $63 billion in FY 2018 and $68 billion in FY 2019.

Since FY 2018 began more than four months ago, the government has been funded by a series of continuing resolutions (CRs) that have kept most spending areas at FY 2017 levels. The Department of Defense has complained that operating under CRs for much of the past decade has hurt military readiness and slowed acquisition efforts.

In a joint statement, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, praised the Senate agreement, saying it will suspend “Congress’s budget dysfunction” and “will provide our men and women in uniform with the training, capabilities and support they need to keep America safe and rise to all of the challenges that we ask of them.”

Thornberry told reporters that he expects the House to approve the deal even though many Republican lawmakers oppose the increases in domestic spending.

The agreement “begins to repair our military,” he said. “We have had too many accidents, too much loss of life as a result” of under-funding the military.

The Senate announcement came a day after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee Feb. 6 that DoD’s FY 2019 budget request will total $716 billion, up from the nearly $700 billion contained in the FY 2018 defense authorization act (Defense Daily, Dec. 12, 2017).

Mattis said the FY 2019 request, which is scheduled for release Feb. 12, will emphasize artificial intelligence, advanced autonomous systems, cyber, missile defense, nuclear forces, professional military education, readiness restoration and space.

Asked by Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) how DoD plans to defend against growing North Korean ballistic missile threats, Mattis testified that the department will continue bolstering its missile defenses in the Pacific. Guam already hosts a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery and can also be protected by Aegis ships.

“We are looking at all the systems, to include [the land-based] Aegis Ashore, as we look toward the future protection of our Pacific area,” he said.