By Laicie Heeley
When lawmakers return to Congress in September, they’ll face a series of pressing budgetary decisions in need of immediate attention, and a packed agenda likely to draw their attention away. Republican leaders have already conceded the likelihood of a stop-gap funding bill, or continuing resolution, when the end of the fiscal year arrives on September 30. But the latest reports have lawmakers mulling the possibility of a yearlong Continuing Resolution for every part of the federal budget, including defense. CRs have become commonplace, especially in the past few years, but a year-long CR has little precedent. Unfortunately, it could be the path of least resistance for Congress, especially in an election year, leaving the Pentagon to pick up the pieces of Congress’ refusal to adhere to one of its most basic responsibilities: setting the budget.
The issue at hand is the 2011 Budget Control Act caps. In short, the caps place limits on defense and domestic spending during the years fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2021. If congressional appropriations exceed those spending caps, the Office of Management and Budget is required to make automatic, across-the-board sequester cuts. But this year, the president sent Congress a budget request that would break those caps for defense by $38 billion, paying for the adjustment through changes in tax laws and mandatory or entitlement programs. Since the Republican Congress could not agree on raising the caps, or raising taxes, they dodged the issue by adding the $38 billion to defense spending that isn’t subject to the caps — the Overseas Contingency Operations budget. The Republican budgetary tactic has been critiqued as “budget gimmickry” and a “slush fund,” adding money to what is supposed to be a war-related account for things that have nothing to do with America’s current combat deployments.