Failure to Move on Budget Resolution Makes September Continuing Resolution Likely
By Matt Vallone, Senior Analysis Manager
The Senate is out of session this week for their spring break and the House is scheduled to join them on Wednesday with neither chamber having yet approved a budget resolution for FY 2017. Instead, the House will spend the week considering measures to restrict the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to challenge mergers and an extension of the Federal Aviation Administraion’s authorization (which currently expires on the 31st). The failure of the House to adopt a budget resolution means that despite the need for regular order and the timely passing of appropriations bills, it is increasingly likely that this fiscal year, like so many others, will end with a continuing resolution (CR).
The reason that a continuing resolution is probable lies in the House of Representatives, where Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is balancing several goals that make it unlikely appropriations will be able to proceed. The first of these is a commitment to not rely on Democratic votes to deem the spending levels found in the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) levels as ‘the budget’. As an explanation, each year, under the Congressional Budget Act, Congress is required to adopt a topline budget to govern the appropriations committee. Normally this is done through the adoption of an annual budget resolution. However, it can also be done by voting to ‘deem’ levels as being set at a certain number. The Senate is approaching this year’s budget assuming that the levels of the BBA are the budget levels rather than adopting a new budget resolution. Given the unpopular nature of these levels among House Republicans, it is improbable that these levels could be adopted without Democratic support. However, Speaker Ryan has publically committed not to rely on their votes. This blocks off one avenue for potential appropriations.
The second pain point is that House Republicans don’t have the votes to pass a budget at the BBA levels due to objections by the House Freedom Caucus, but they also don’t have the votes to pass it at the Budget Control Act levels demanded by House conservatives. This makes it hard to see a path forward on a topline budget. The House Budget Committee was able to pass a resolution with only two defections last week, but consideration on the measure will not be taken up until sometime in April. Even should it eventually make the floor, it’s fate remains uncertain given the tensions within the Republican caucus.
This brings us to the third problem facing Congressional appropriators, which is the calendar. This being an election year, Congress is in session even less than normal. Right now there are a total of fifteen session weeks remaining for the House and seventeen session weeks remaining in the Senate before the end of Fiscal Year 2016. In order to avoid a CR, both chambers would need to consider and adopt twelve highly contentious appropriations bills, go to conference to resolve differences, and then vote on a final product within that time. Even if one ignores the problems posed by the lack of a budget, it is certainly conceivable that this could be done for some number of bills (though the likelihood of passage for individual bills varies significantly), it is highly unlikely that it could be done for all bills. It is very easy to envision a scenario where the fate of the Department of Defense appropriations legislation is held up by concerns from Democrats concerning the funding for non-defense bills, such as the Labor-HHS appropriation, or the Transportation, Housing & Urban Development appropriation.
The combination of the problems facing the budget in the House plus the constraints of the calendar make it highly likely that, come September, Congress will be faced with the need to adopt a continuing resolution to keep the government funded. Given this year’s election, the CR would almost certainly run past the second Tuesday of November. That would make it likely that the election results would drive the actions of a lame-duck Congress in funding FY 2017.
Congressional Defense Activity
SASC – Senate is out of session
3/22 The FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense, Full Committee Hearing, 10am, 2118 Rayburn
3/22 Logistics and Sealift Force Requirements, Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Hearing, 2pm, 2212 Rayburn
3/22 FY 2017 Information Technology and Cyber Programs: Foundations for a Secure Warfighting Network, Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee Hearing, 330pm 2118 Rayburn
3/23 Update on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program and the FY 2017 Budget Request, Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Hearing, 1030am, 2118 Rayburn
3/22 Defense Health Program, 10am, 2359 Rayburn
3/22 National Guard and Reserve, 130pm, H140 Capitol Building
3/23 FY17 Military Construction and Veteran Affairs Appropriations Bill Mark-Up, 9am, 2362-A Rayburn
SAC-D – Senate is out of session
Government Activity Round-up
The Obama administration plans on nominating the first female combatant commander. According to reporting from Politico, the White House will nominate General Lori Robinson to run Northern Command to replace Admiral Bill Gortney.
Nothing particularly interesting out of CBO or GAO regarding defense or aerospace, though that may change as we get closer to HASC and SASC working on the NDAA.
On Monday, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will be speaking at Georgetown. On Tuesday, the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies will hold an event looking at Naval Aviation: Present & Future (more info from LinkTank available here).