By: Matt Vallone
Bipartisan Budget Act Boosts Base Defense Spending and Sets the Stage for Fall Appropriations
Under the pressure of a looming November deadline, Congress and the White House have agreed to pass legislation that will raise the debt ceiling and set spending levels through the 2016 election. The Bipartisan Budget Act increases discretionary spending for defense and non-defense for both FY 2016 and FY 2017 above the levels set in the 2011 Budget Control Act. It does so through a combination of pay-fors, including adjustments to Medicare reimbursement rates, increased OCO funding, and selling off of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It also suspends the debt ceiling until March of 2017. This deal will serve as the final achievement of departing House Speaker John Boehner who, after announcing his resignation, proclaimed a desire to ‘clean the barn’ for incoming Speaker Paul Ryan.
However, while this legislation will likely allow Congress to avoid most of the potential fiscal deadlines through the end of the Obama presidency, it does not guarantee that shutdown drama will be completely avoided. This is because while the Bipartisan Budget Act provides top lines for spending, it does not actually provide any appropriations. This means that additional legislation will be need to provide funding details for the Department of Defense and other government agencies before the current continuing resolution expires on December 11th. While both Democrats and Republicans have agreed to top line spending figures, there remain potential disputes over policy riders that could conceivably lead to a government shutdown.
In addition to setting the stage for full appropriations, the budget agreement could provide for passage of a revised FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. While President Obama vetoed this legislation earlier this fall, it is likely that a revised version that conformed to the budget levels set in the Bipartisan Budget Act would be acceptable to the White House. While some policy disagreements would remain, it is unlikely they would prompt a veto.
Overall, while the Bipartisan Budget Act represents a significant achievement for Congress and the White House, defense watchers will need to keep their eyes out on additional legislation this fall. Real, interesting spending information will only become available as appropriations and authorizations are voted on and signed into law.
Weekly Political Schedule
Action Still Needed on Defense Appropriations
The House and Senate will likely focus on passing a new version of the transportation funding authorization bill this week, so there will be less floor activity that is relevant to defense. That being said, the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act has set toplines for spending for FY 2016 and FY 2017, but more work needs to be done to keep the government open. The twelve appropriations bills will need to be passed either as individual bills or as an omnibus before the continuing resolution expires on December 11th. As passed by the House, the individual bills contain a variety of policy riders that has prompted veto threats from the White House. However, conservative members will likely insist on retaining this language in any new appropriations bill. While the appropriations legislation for the Department of Defense should be one of the least controversial pieces of legislation to move forward, it may be subject to larger maneuvering over riders and funding.
Congressional Defense Activity
Both chambers are in negotiations over the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed last week by the Senate. In addition, the House may vote on legislation related to the National Defense Authorization Act. This would either be an attempt to override the President’s veto or a vote on amended legislation set at the budget levels found in the Bipartisan Budget Act.
House Defense Activity –
House Armed Services Hearings:
11/3 – ‘Aircraft Carrier – Presence and Surge Limitations, Expanding Power Projection Options’
11/3 – ‘Future Options for the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent – Views from Project Atom’
Senate Defense Activity –
Senate Armed Services Hearings:
11/3 – ‘Future of Warfare’
11/5 – ‘Revisiting the Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces’
Government Activity Round-up
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and CJCS Dunford are traveling in Asia this week.
Interesting/noteworthy GAO/CBO reports