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Shutdown Snarls DoD’s 2020 Budget; When Will Congress See It?

Posted by Paul McLeary on

UPDATED: Trump Announces Government Reopens For 3 Weeks

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon won’t be able to release its fiscal year 2020 budget on Feb. 4 as previously planned because it has been caught up in the melee caused down by the 35-day government shutdown. The budget release could be delayed at least one month.

The missed target won’t mean troops will miss paychecks nor will production lines shut down, but it stands as another example of how the political dysfunction of Washington reaches out and touches every part of the government — even those which have already been fully funded.

President Trump’s announcement Friday that hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be heading back to work shortly means that work can begin again on wrapping up the Pentagon’s 2020 budget, which saw a slew of last-minute changes come in just as the doors at the Office of Management and Budget were being locked. The request, which swayed with president Trump’s moods over the past two months, has been on ice since mid-December.

The budget — which Trump has said over the past two months would be $733 billion, then $700 billion, and finally somewhere near $750 billion — is expected to fall somewhere within the latter two figures. But Pentagon officials have held up 2020 as the year the Pentagon would finally begin its big push to modernize the force, after two years of pumping cash into readiness and refit programs.

That is not expected to change much, but the shutdown, which sent many from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget home to wait it out, has stopped work on the Pentagon’s request at OMB.

Military budget planners, forced to work overtime given the president’s last minute changes over the past two months to slash $33 billion from the topline before adding as much as $50 billion, sent their work to OMB in December — after there was no one around to make the changes.

So those new figures have sat dormant for the past 35 days, several sources have confirmed, meaning the OMB would need to reopen before staffers could even begin the process of acknowledging the requested changes.

Several administration sources said current planning calls for a one-to-one correlation for the number of days OMB is closed to when they can finish work on the 2020 budget. So, even as the president announced the reopening of the government today, that means the OMB staffers would likely wrap work on the budget in late February or possibly early March, pushing posture hearings for the service chiefs and Pentagon leadership even further out.  

And then comes the real action. If the final request comes in, as expected, near the $750 billion mark, it would be a mouth-dropping $100 billion above the 2020 budget cap under the Budget Control Act. Lawmakers have managed to broker bipartisan deals to lift the caps ever since sequestration hobbled the government in 2013, but each fight has been a bloody one.

Also adding some uncertainty is that dealmaking will require rounds of trade-offs between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratically-controlled House. It might be hard to sell $750 billion of defense to either Democrats or Republican budget hawks at a time of expanding national debt and 5 percent cuts to every other federal agency.

Incoming House Armed Services chairman Adam Smith and House Democrats will have a larger say on the budget next year, and Smith has outlined his agenda in a series of a wide-ranging discussions with reporters that has left little question that he will press a new agenda. While many of his stances were unsurprising — he wants equal treatment for transgender troops, less spending on nuclear modernization, and no border-wall funding carved out of the defense budget — they are unlikely to go over well with the White House.

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