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This lame-duck Congress has four urgent must-do tasks

File - The Capitol Dome is seen amid ripples in the reflecting pool, in Washington, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, one day before Election Day.
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
The Capitol Dome is seen amid ripples in the reflecting pool in Washington on Nov. 7, 2022, one day before Election Day.

With the midterm elections over and nearly a quarter of fiscal year 2023 complete, it’s critical that the White House and Congress reach several deals in the lame-duck session between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. High inflation, the war in Ukraine, an assertive China, and depleted munition stocks have never made it more urgent to get funding for our national security institutions authorized and appropriated. 

Our elected leaders need to do four things: Enact the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), pass appropriations for FY23, set aside additional aid for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s war, and eliminate the threat of the debt ceiling default. Accomplishing these tasks in the roughly 30 or so days of this session is an extremely difficult task, yet the American people, our warfighters, and yes, the entire world, deserve no less from our elected leaders. 

First, our military needs the NDAA to be enacted — quickly. Hundreds of authorities and necessary changes reside within this bill. In fact, it’s so important that the incoming House leadership recently threatened to hold it hostage. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the logic of the changes they propose, the discussion of those changes should be left for the fiscal 2024 NDAA. We are already so far into FY23 that the Senate isn’t likely to agree to any changes the House proposes. Given the wide bipartisan support for the NDAA, passing it should be the first task.

Second, our government and the military need appropriations bills to be passed. We are still operating under a continuing resolution, which, as my colleague Elaine McCusker has shown, results in the Department of Defense (DOD) losing out on $207 million in buying power each day. Failing to enact appropriations on time this year is more than a waste of taxpayer dollars. With war waging in Europe, no new appropriations means we cannot buy weapons and munitions to the levels set out in the FY23 NDAA. That will hurt our ability to defend our country and reinforce our NATO and Pacific-region allies.

To pass the appropriations, there will be a compromise in the form of a dollar-for-dollar change to both defense and non-defense programs. That’s a bipartisan process that has happened over and over for the better part of the past decade-plus, demonstrating that a viable blueprint for compromise exists.

Third, Congress must appropriate funding for the next year to continue to provide vital aid to the Ukrainians in rolling back Russia’s invasion. Given the split in the new Congress with different political parties controlling the House and Senate, albeit by narrow margins in each chamber, it is likely that additional aid could become contentious. It’s also possible that reaching a compromise to allow for these appropriations could require the appointment of a special inspector general. Many will debate whether special inspector general roles are effective or not; however, appointing one may be a small price to pay to send a clear message to Russia that they cannot and will not prevail in Ukraine. Passing a full year of funding for Ukraine’s war effort would bolster the morale and fighting spirit of the brave Ukrainian men and women who are fighting every day, knowing that the munitions and weapons they need will be coming.

Finally, the continued threat of not servicing our national debt has become a perennial flashpoint in Congress. Most agree that defaulting on our debt would create a global financial catastrophe and, with the world recovering from the pandemic, a shock of this magnitude easily could produce unrest around the world and embolden China to act even more aggressively. Until the new Congress is seated, the House can pass a debt limit extension. In the Senate, the majority leader will need to find 10 Republicans to pass the extension. Certainly, the Office of Management and Budget should be doing the political calculus to strike a deal to get this passed and taken off the table until after the 2024 presidential elections.

Each of these tasks is difficult; taken together they may seem impossible. However, as the saying goes, if you want to solve a hard problem, make it even bigger. Nobody likes the monstrous omnibus bills that have everything in them but the proverbial kitchen sink. But, with only 30 days or so before potential gridlock in the new Congress, it may be time for one last big bipartisan push to get the defense NDAA passed, fund the government, keep the Ukrainians armed, and avert a global financial collapse by passing a debt limit increase.  

Our elected leaders owe no less to the American people, our warfighters, and really, to the entire world. China is watching.

Retired Maj. Gen. John Ferrari is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the former director of program analysis and evaluation for the U.S. Army. 

Tags Appropriations bill divided Congress Elaine McCusker national debt National Defense Authorization Act US military aid to Ukraine

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