Will Pentagon need a funding stopgap?

A senior member of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday that Congress would likely need to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the Defense Department (DOD) until after the November elections.

“I’d love to see all the appropriations bills get done prior to the end of the budget year … but all the discussions I’ve had point to a short-term CR until after the election and then putting together the budget bills,” said Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), head of the committee’s Readiness subpanel.

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Even though both chambers are “a lot farther along than we’ve been in the recent past,” Wittman said, appropriators are not “at a point where they’d be willing to coalesce into an omnibus budget bill” and vote on it by Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2015.
 
“So that leads us to a short-term CR,” Wittman said during a Defense Writers Group Breakfast.

Congress has about only 20 working days left this year. Lawmakers have already begun to cram in legislative business before the August recess and will only meet for a handful of days before the November election, leaving little time to finish the government’s policy and spending bills.

The full House has already passed both measures for the Pentagon, but things have moved slower in the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee began marking up its draft of the DOD spending bill on Tuesday. The full committee will take up the bill on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s defense authorization bill is stuck in limbo. Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee have implored their colleagues for amendments to the policy blueprint, but no floor time has yet been scheduled.

Wittman said, “There’s lots of history to indicate that there will be a national defense authorization act regardless of what happens with the election.”

He said the only “good side” to a temporary spending measure is that there is more certainty to when it will end, as lawmakers already have a “framework of what happens on the appropriations side.”

He guessed that there would be an omnibus budget bill once Congress reconvenes.

“I don’t see them going through and passing each of the appropriations bills individually, but I do see an omnibus right after we get back,” Wittman told reporters.

He added it would be better for an omnibus bill to come up before the end of the budget year, but he did not hold out hope that would happen.

“I’m a optimist, but I’m also a realist,” Wittman said.