The Senate passed Aug. 1 the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, officially setting defense funding toplines for the next two years and allowing the U.S. government to avoid any further sequestration threats.

H.R. 3877 sets the defense spending topline at $738 billion in fiscal year 2020, and at $741.5 billion in FY ’21. While that is tens of billions less than the $750 billion topline that the Senate approved in its version of the FY ’20 National Defense Authorization Act, proponents of the bill applauded the stability and security that a two-year spending bill provides the Department of Defense.

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

The bill was passed 67-28 and follows a successful House vote July 25 of 284-149 (Defense Daily, July 25). Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signed the bill on Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon before it was sent up to the White House, where President Trump is expected to quickly sign it.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and a strong lobbyist for the budget bill, lauded the passage in a statement Thursday after lawmakers spent several uncertain days trying to whip votes together (Defense Daily, July 30).

“Passing this defense budget deal is the right thing to do — for our troops, for our veterans and for the American people,” Inhofe said. “Providing sufficient funding for our military and eliminating the threat of sequestration for good are absolutely necessary for our military to have the budgetary stability and predictability they so desperately need.”

Twenty-three Republicans and five Democrats voted against the spending bill, while five senators did not vote. SASC members who voted against the bill include: Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

Senators who did not vote include Democratic presidential nominees Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), as well as Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

The Senate adjourned for August recess Thursday afternoon and is scheduled to return Sept. 9, along with the House, which adjourned for recess July 25. Meetings are expected to begin shortly thereafter to begin FY ’20 NDAA conference talks. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as its defense subcommittee, told reporters Thursday that draft appropriation bill discussions should begin shortly after recess ends.

He would like to combine several bills together into one “minibus” bill, to include the Departments of Defense, Labor and Health and Human Services, as Congress opted to do for the FY ’19 budget. “If we did that, we’d have over 70 percent … of expenditures” done, he added.

While the budget deal does remove the threat of the U.S. government undergoing sequestration for the last two years imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, it does not entirely stave off the possibility of a continuing resolution, should Congress prove unable to come to agreements on its spending bills. Shelby said he remained hopeful that lawmakers would be able to find common ground and avoid such an outcome in FY ’20.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the SAC-D ranking member, told reporters that there’s no schedule yet for when 302(B) allocations – which identify a spending cap for each subcommittee’s appropriations bills – will be issued.

“It’s a critical element in moving this forward to establishing a good appropriation bill as quickly as possible.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Sen. Cory Booker’s state.