Political Report: 2/5/2019
Main Story: As DoD Becomes More Involved in Border Dispute, Risks Rises for Sequestration
Since our last Political Report, the government has reopened and announced the date for the FY2020 President’s Budget Request release – March 12th for the toplines and March 18th for detailed information. However, another significant story impacting the Department of Defense has been moving forward slightly under the radar as these events begin to unfold. The Department of Defense continues to get drawn ever deeper into the dispute over the construction of a border wall along the US-Mexico border. Linking DoD funding to the wall would make it significantly harder to find the votes needed to lift budget caps, potentially posing significant risks to planned increases in defense spending. Defense analysts should be aware of the risk of the DoD being subjected to sequestration should it be drawn into an ongoing policy brawl that shut down much of the government for over a month and may do so again before the end of February.
The Department of Defense has been steadily drawn deeper into involving itself with ongoing attempts to block off the southern border, both through changes in immigration policy and through the proposed construction of ‘the wall.’ The first version of this occurred during the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, when 5,200 service personnel were dispatched to the border in response to claims that there was a crisis that DHS could not adequately handle. More recently, the Department of Defense sent out a notice that additional service members will be deployed to the border. However, the most significant involvement for the DoD could be if the administration decides to declare a national emergency to construct a wall and leverage funds in Military Construction appropriations to do so. While any such declaration would almost certainly become entangled with court fights and potential Congressional action, it is unlikely that either of those paths would be resolved in a timely manner for the start of FY2020.
Thus, Congress would be attempting to resolve FY2020 funding debates with the issue of the wall squarely settled in the budget of the Department of Defense. Indeed, there are rumors that the FY2020 release will contain funding in Military Construction for the building of the wall. Such a decision would risk exposing the Department to a shutdown, a long-term continuing resolution, or even sequestration. By linking the DoD funding to such a politically toxic issue, it becomes significantly harder to find the votes necessary to lift budget caps and provide funding at even the current levels. As evidenced by the record-long shutdown, neither Republicans nor Democrats appear interested in compromising on the issue of funding the wall. Connecting DoD funding to the wall will likely not change these positions, thus exposing DoD funding to additional risks.
The ability of the DoD to sustain the momentum of the past few years would be deeply impacted by the sudden imposition of BCA caps. Base defense spending would be limited to $576 billion in 2020, a drop of over $70 billion from FY 2019 enacted levels. While OCO could be relied upon to make some of this up, it would likely be extremely disruptive and, even then, require positive Congressional action that might be hard to guarantee given the current governing dysfunction. This certainly will be something to watch going into the FY2020 funding cycle.
The House will again pass a series of funding bills that would reopen the government. These bills will include an additional $1 billion in border security funding as an attempt to win over Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to block consideration of any measure not supported by the White House.
The Senate will attempt to pass legislation based on the White House’s most recent proposal, however Senate Democrats are likely to filibuster it and it is not clear if it even has majority support in the Senate.
Congressional Defense Activity
- 2/6 ‘Full Committee Organizational/Business Meeting (CLOSED)’, Full Committee Meeting, HVC-304 The Capitol, 10am
- 2/5 ‘Closed Briefing: Intelligence Matters’, Full Committee Briefing, 219 Hart, 230pm
- 2/7 ‘Closed Briefing: Intelligence Matters’, Full Committee Briefing, 219 Hart, 2pm
- 2/6 ‘U.S. Policy in the Arabian Peninsula’, Full Committee Hearing, 2172 Rayburn, 10am
- 2/7 ‘Business Meeting’, Full Committee Meeting, S-116 The Capitol, 2pm
- 2/5 ‘United States Central Command’, Full Committee Hearing, SH-216 Hart, 930am
- 2/5 ‘CLOSED: United States Central Command – follow-up to the open hearing’, Full Committee Hearing, SVC-217 Capitol Visitor Center, 215pm
- 2/6 ‘CLOSED: United States Army Readiness’, Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, SVC-217 Capitol Visitor Center, 230pm
- 2/6 ‘CLOSED: Global Nuclear Developments’, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, SVC-217 Capitol Visitor Center, 230pm
- 2/7 ‘United States Africa Command and United States Southern Command’, Full Committee Hearing, SD-G50 Dirksen, 1015am
- 2/6 ‘Evaluation of the Department of Defense’s Counterterrorism Approach’, Full Committee Hearing, 2118 Rayburn, 10am
- No hearings this week
- 2/6 ‘World Wide Threat Assessment and Intelligence Community Posture Hearing(CLOSED)’, H-405 The Capitol, 3pm