ARLINGTON: House leadership wants to pass all the outstanding spending bills by Sunday, defense appropriations chairwoman Kay Granger said this afternoon.
“We’re going to do… all the rest of them this week,” Granger told a DefenseNews conference here. “I was with the Majority Leader [Rep. Kevin McCarthy] last night, who said, ‘if we don’t finish Friday, we’ll be here Saturday. If we don’t finish Saturday….'” – well, Granger trailed off, but you can guess the rest. All eight remaining bills will be rolled up into a “megabus” appropriation, H.R. 3354, which President Trump has already promised to sign, presuming it’s passed in its current form.
Since the Senate sending bills are lagging behind, Congress will still have to pass a stopgap Continuing Resolution to forestall a government shutdown. “I would be amazed if there’s a shutdown,” Granger said. As for the Continuing Resolution, she predicts a “short” CR that gives way to proper spending bills by “early December,” she told reporters. (It’s worth noting that House Armed Service chairman Mac Thornberry thinks a CR through December is lamentably long). [UPDATE: Late Wednesday, President Trump blindsided GOP leaders by agreeing with Democrats on a CR through early December].
What’s more, Granger said, she’s confident that final funding levels for the Defense Department will be well above the Budget Control Act caps.
Why so confident? “Probably North Korea is what made the difference,” Granger told reporters. “We have to have money to be ready in our missile defense” in particular. It’s “quite possible” to get increased missile defense funding even in the Continuing Resolution, she said, as a so-called “anomaly” to the normal rule of CRs that all programs just keep spending at last year’s levels.
That North Korea’s possible H-bomb and the ICBM tests caught Americans by surprise shows a major failure by US intelligence agencies, Granger added. “I haven’t even seen acknowledgement of it (i.e. the failure),” she said. “You can’t improve it unless you name it.”
Intelligence failures aside, however, Granger said, North Korea has gotten Congress to realize the importance of defense funding. Another factor is the rash of fatal accidents in the last three months that Granger, Thornberry and others attribute to shortfalls in training and maintenance accounts.
But how about the hardline budget hawks who’ve upheld the BCA as a bulwark against federal spending, I asked. Are they changing their minds? “I think some of them will,” Granger said.
Granger isn’t predicting the repeal of the Budget Control Act, often called sequestration, or even reform. The solution is “probably dancing around” the BCA, which doesn’t limit war funding, allowing legislators to label all sorts of expenditures as BCA-exempt Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). While many on the Hill loathe this kind of fiscal gimmickry, Granger said bluntly that “we don’t have money another way – but we really should work very hard to be transparent and to tell people this is what we need and this is the way we’re funding it.”
Labeling enduring base-budget needs as overseas contingency funding – known as “OCO for base” – was central to the roughly $700 billion defense appropriation the House approved earlier this year. It passed as part of a national-security-themed “minibus” package with military construction, energy & water (which covers some nuclear weapons spending), and legislative affairs (which funds Congress itself).
“They got a bipartisan vote, and it passed, and that was really important, because we didn’t hide anything about bursting through the caps at all,” Granger said. “It was just there; and it still passed.”
If the House bypassed BCA this easily once, it can do so again, Granger argues. And a spending bill that makes it through the House should pass the Senate, which is less hardline on budget caps.