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U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

The Defense Department has had its spending disrupted by temporary spending bills for several years, and the continuing resolution lawmakers passed in late December leaves it stuck with the same problem. Now, about three months behind when Congress needed to pass a federal budget, it needs to determine how much funding the Pentagon will receive when the most recent CR expires this Friday.

Why it matters: Stopgap funding squeezes offices’ operations in the Pentagon across the board — it slows new acquisitions programs, it prevents new starts to programs, damages readiness, disrupts planned growth for programs, and disrupts implementing orders from the top of the DoD to change focus. But at this point Congress may be barreling towards another CR.

The impact:

  • A CR often prevents agencies from implementing or continuing a program that didn't have funding in the previous year. The DoD claims that 75 weapons programs have been delayed by the most recent CR's restrictions, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.
  • Even if updates to programs or contracts are already awarded, a CR forces the Pentagon to halt all progress on those fronts. The Pentagon's comptroller, David Norquist, said the effect of that waste is that the DoD is "delayed in meeting the requirements of the combatant commanders." Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood told Axios: "The longer the CR, the more damaging it is."
  • The timing and pace of work is changed. CRs may put caps on expenditures for programs that tend to spend heavily in the first few months of the year, per the USNI. John Conger, a former Pentagon official in the Obama administration, says CRs force the Pentagon to compress the bulk of its work into three quarters of the year, leaving one quarter of each year in a lull.
  • CRs make bulk buys and multiyear contracts more difficult to execute. CRs also lead to repetitive contracting when new funding is issued, time and money that could be spent elsewhere more efficiently.
  • Contingency plans have to be updated more frequently under CRs, since the Pentagon has to constantly assess how it will operate in the event of a shutdown.
  • In recent years, the Pentagon has been planning ahead for stopgap funding, Conger said, which has made CRs a little less disruptive — but that doesn't mean there's no damage at all.

How CRs work: They freeze funding at the previous fiscal year’s spending level, which is linked to a broader spending deal lawmakers forged in 2011 that set budget caps and included defense spending cuts.

  • Just two times since then has Congress reached two-year budget deals that raised those spending caps.

Where things stand on Capitol Hill:

  • "There's no way that we won't need another CR coming into the week," Rep. Tom Cole, a defense hawk who serves on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, told Axios. "Even if they reach an agreement then, it's still going to take time to actually write the final bills themselves and negotiate a final outcome."
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters last week much of the same. He said that an agreement on spending might take a little more time beyond the Jan. 19 deadline to fund the government, indicating Congress may need to craft another CR this week.
  • Some defense hawks are threatening to vote no on a CR if they don’t get a longer-term deal over spending caps, per Politico — a threat that raises the risk of a government shutdown. Cole said he doesn't see what good would come from that, however. "You might as well just help the Democrats obtain the majority," he said.
  • But the goal of a two-year deal to prevent spending cuts for the Pentagon that some Republicans are pushing for in spending deals ahead is "imminently achievable" once Congress agrees on the spending levels for one year, Cole said.
  • Democrats don’t want to increase military spending without increasing spending on domestic programs by the same amount, complicating those negotiations.

Don't forget: The amount of wiggle room Republicans have for pushing military spending is slim. The tax code overhaul that passed last month is set to raise the deficit by $1.5 trillion over a decade, which has made some lawmakers concerned about government spending adding to that figure.

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.