Analysis: It’s Time for a Reexamination of Nuclear Weapons Requirements

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2215

The $350 billion price tag for modernizing the United States’ nuclear arsenal has been a topic of endless debate in Washington. The funds would be spent over the coming decade to bring the nation’s nuclear triad up to date — the bombers, the submarines, the ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and the warheads.

Little to no discussion has focused on the larger issue of how many weapons and what technologies are needed to support the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrence, analysts said. The Obama administration for a time was interested in pushing that conversation to the fore, but clashes with Congress over federal spending and the passage of the Budget Control Act in 2011 completely shifted the course of the nuclear weapons debate.

“Now the discussion is that we can’t afford the weapons,” said Amy Woolf, nuclear weapons policy specialist at the Congressional Research Service. “The conversation of requirements, roles and missions was replaced by a budget conversation,” she said in a presentation at an Arms Control Association conference. Woolf said her views are her own and was not speaking on behalf of CRS.

Obama, like other U.S. presidents before him, talked about how the world would be better off with fewer atomic weapons. In a 2009 speech in Prague, he called for “concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.” The soaring rhetoric later gave way to the political realities of a hostile U.S. Congress and a defiant Russia.

If there were any serious plans to engage in an arms control debate, they were permanently sidelined when Congress passed the BCA, said Woolf. Even though nuclear weapons make up just 5 percent of the defense budget, the spending cuts imposed by Congress set off a scramble at the Pentagon to identify programs that may have to be delayed or terminated. The costs associated with the nuclear triad became a bone of contention, as Pentagon officials and lawmakers warned about the financial burden this places on the Defense Department at a time when the military is trying to modernize its aging conventional weapon systems.

The next administration may want to turn the attention back to requirements, Woolf said. “If you continue the discussion to be about the cost, there will not be any progress in nuclear reductions.”

The U.S. nuclear modernization plan as it stands today will not break the Pentagon, said Andrew Weber, who served as assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs during the Obama administration. These expenses could reasonably be absorbed with some minor adjustments to quantities and schedules, he said at the Arms Control Association conference.

But Weber said Obama in his final months in office has an opportunity to leave his mark by slowing down or terminating the more destabilizing portions of the nuclear modernization program such as a new cruise missile.

“Our deterrence is on a good path,” he said. Under Obama, the “neglect of the previous decade has been reversed.”

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration is producing an upgraded W76-1 warhead to be deployed on Navy submarines, to replace the Cold War era W76-0. The new warhead is in full production and will be finished by 2019. “The heart of our deterrence, the sea leg, will be in very good shape,” said Weber.

The NNSA also is refurbishing the W88 warhead for sea launched ballistic missiles, and making significant upgrades to command and control systems, Weber said.

The Pentagon is on a path to start buying the new B-21 stealth bomber and a modern submarine to replace the Ohio class. There are still questions about how many are needed, but the programs are funded, and the Pentagon may have to make some tradeoffs to fit them under the spending limits set by Congress. “Do we need 60 bombers, 100 bombers?” Weber asked. “That’s a discussion worth having.” If the Pentagon had bought 60 B-2s in the 1990s — instead of truncating the program at 21 — the Air Force would have been able to retire the B-52 and the nuclear-tipped cruise missile known as ALCM. In hindsight, Weber said, it may have been wiser to build more B-2s as the START II force structure calls for 60 nuclear capable bombers.

Weber has joined former Defense Secretary Bill Perry as a vocal opponent of the ALCM and its planned replacement — known as the long-range strike option, or LRSO — a weapon that they argue is unnecessary for deterrence and more likely than any other to set off a nuclear Armageddon.

Perry warned that newer weapons that have lower yields and higher accuracies create “dangerous assumptions.” There is a growing risk of nuclear escalation, Perry said in a recent interview with Vice News. “The danger of nuclear catastrophe is bigger now than during the Cold War and the public is blissfully unaware.”

Ending the LRSO program would be “low hanging fruit” in the nuclear requirements debate, said Weber. Nuclear-armed cruise missiles are destabilizing and viewed around the world as disasters waiting to happen, he added.

Once the B-21 starts replacing B-52 bombers in about 15 years, the ALCM would be taken out of the inventory as it only flies on the B-52. If the LRSO is produced, the United States would have a penetrating nuclear missile combined with a penetrating bomber, Weber said. “It’s more than we need, frankly.” If Obama allows the LRSO to reach milestone A in the Pentagon procurement process and become a program of record, it will be “very hard to stop,” he said. “The president should put a one-year delay on the program and leave it for the next administration to consider in the next nuclear posture review.”

There are other options to fill the LRSO standoff delivery mission, Weber said. The new B61-12 gravity bomb “gives our air leg a formidable part of the deterrent without replacing the ALCM,” said Weber. He cautioned that this would not be a “disarmament step, but investing in what we need to have a sustainable air leg.” The B61-12 has a smaller warhead but has guidance electronics to target more accurately. “This is accuracy our nuclear bombs have never had,” Weber said.

The president should cancel the LRSO program and work with other countries on a treaty to prohibit nuclear-armed cruse missiles, said Weber. The Pentagon’s mission would not be affected, he suggested, because the Air Force is procuring a conventional air-launched standoff cruise missile called JASSM ER.

The Obama administration is “trying to determine what capabilities we have to maintain in the stockpile and delivery systems so we can maintain a credible deterrence that can sustain itself in the coming decades,” said the president’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes in remarks at the Arms Control Association conference.

“We are looking at ways to reduce the risk of an inadvertent catastrophe,” Rhodes said. But he acknowledged that a treaty to ban nuclear-armed cruise missiles would be difficult, as those weapons are the ones “other nuclear states are least inclined to accept restrictions.”

Weber said Obama or his successor could retire weapons nobody talks about, like the B83 gravity bomb. “It has a yield of over one megaton. It has no legitimate use today,” he said. And keeping the aging bombs around costs $30 million to $40 million a year. Over time “it adds up to real money,” said Weber. “We don’t need nuclear weapons in the megaton plus range of yield.”

The ICBM piece of the force would be relatively easy to streamline, he said. “We’ve already done the work. We know we can retire a wing, go down to 300 without having to impact our nuclear deterrent.” Like other decisions related to nuclear forces, this one would a political hard sell, but not impossible. “I would close the wing at Minot Air Force Base” in North Dakota, he said. That would not require closing the base because B-52s in active service are stationed there.

One of two warheads in the ICBM could be eliminated, Weber added. The W87 is in “good shape,” and an argument could be made to not replace the W78.

Woolf said these are tough calls in a deeply divided government and in the face of an aggressive Russia. Nonetheless, the nuclear debate can’t be solely about the cost, she said. The nuclear forces have to be modernized even if that requires some compromises over other Pentagon programs. “In the nuclear program, things are getting old. Old stuff will introduce risk. Upgrading 30-year old missiles is costly,” she said. “If you delay, you introduce risk. We don’t structure nuclear forces according to budget arithmetic. Maintaining deterrence requirements is the key.”

If the verdict is that the current nuclear program is unaffordable, then the president should revisit the requirements, and then change the budget, Woolf said.

Defense analyst Evan Montgomery, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the world is now in the midst of a “second nuclear age,” one that is arguably more complex and potentially more volatile than the bipolar U.S.–Soviet struggle of the Cold War. In a recent CSBA study, Montgomery explained: “Not only does the United States still need to worry about maintaining strategic stability with a nuclear peer, albeit one possessing far fewer weapons than it did in the past, but it must also manage a number of other existing and emerging challenges: the proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems to fragile nations, the expansion of nuclear arsenals by minor powers and aspiring major powers, and the pursuit of capabilities that are lowering the barriers to nuclear use and eroding the ‘firebreak’ between conventional and nuclear conflict.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that from 2015 to 2024, the administration’s plans for nuclear forces would cost $348 billion. Of that, $299 billion would be budgeted by the Defense and Energy Departments for strategic nuclear delivery systems and weapons ($160 billion), tactical nuclear delivery systems and weapons ($8 billion), nuclear weapons laboratories and their supporting activities ($79 billion) and nuclear-related command, control, communications, and early-warning systems ($52 billion). The remaining $49 billion is for additional costs that would be incurred over the coming decade if the growth rates for the nuclear program’s costs are similar to the average growth rates for similar programs in the past.

CBO said the costs of nuclear forces represent roughly 5 percent to 6 percent of the total costs of the administration’s plans for national defense for the next 10 years.

Like Obama, the next president will face a tough balancing act. The world appears to not want to denuclearize, according to the latest data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “While the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world continues to decline, none of the nuclear weapon-possessing states are prepared to give up their nuclear arsenals for the foreseeable future,” said a new SIPRI report.

Nine states — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — possess approximately 4,120 operationally deployed nuclear weapons. If all nuclear warheads are counted, these states combined have a total of approximately 15,395 nuclear weapons.

The United States and Russia account for more than 93 percent of all nuclear weapons. “Despite the implementation of the bilateral Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) since 2011, the pace of their reductions remains slow,” the report said. Both the United States and Russia have extensive nuclear modernization programs under way. “The ambitious U.S. modernization plan presented by the Obama administration is in stark contrast to President Barack Obama’s pledge to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and the role they play in U.S. national security strategy,” said SIPRI analyst Hans Kristensen.

The report said China appears to be gradually increasing its nuclear forces, India and Pakistan are both expanding their stockpiles and missile delivery capabilities. North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material for approximately 10 nuclear warheads.

“Despite the ongoing reduction in the number of weapons, the prospects for genuine progress towards nuclear disarmament remain gloomy,” said Shannon Kile, head of the SIPRI nuclear weapons project. “All the nuclear weapon-possessing states continue to prioritize nuclear deterrence as the cornerstone of their national security strategies.”

Photo: Defense Dept.

6th Annual RADM Collins Photo Gallery

Changing times in Vietnam: 5 things troops need to know David Larter, Navy Times 9:29 a.m. EDT May 29, 2016

http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/05/28/vietnam-pacom-port-visits-obama-harris/84848028/

President Obama’s announcement Monday that the U.S. could start selling weapons to its former enemy Vietnam means changes ahead for troops.

The president made the announcement at a Hanoi press conference, which ended a half-century ban on U.S. arms sales to Vietnam, putting to rest one of the last foreign policy vestiges of one of the most divisive wars in American history.

Five things service members should know:

1. More visits. Port calls in Vietnam are likely to increase, something Obama previewed in the press conference. The president hinted at increased military-to-military cooperation for humanitarian assistance coordination, which would lead to more troops and sailors visiting Vietnam.

“There may be occasions in which that means more U.S. vessels might visit but I want to emphasize that we will do so only at the invitation and with the full cooperation of the Vietnamese government, fully respecting their sovereignty and their sensitivities,” he said.

U.S. Pacific Command head Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February that he was pushing for more port visits in the country and that Vietnam was receptive to greater cooperation.

2. Strategic hotspot. One of the reasons Vietnam has fought so many wars is because of its unique geography, which is part of what makes it a valuable U.S. partner. It borders the disputed South China Sea and features one of the key deep-water ports in the the whole region: Cam Ranh Bay. That facility used to be a major U.S. operating base during the Vietnam War and Russia leased and expanded it throughout the 1980s and 1990s before leaving in 2002.

“Cam Ranh Bay is a crucial port in the region that strategic planners have missed since the day we left,” said Jerry Hendrix a retired Navy captain and expert at the Center for a New American Security.

Vietnam just opened an international port facility there and Pacific Fleet head Adm. Scott Swift told Navy Times in early May that he was looking to that facility as a way to increase U.S. engagement in Vietnam. Read more about that here.

3. Boots on the ground. With weapons sales to Vietnam on the docket, that also means the possibility of troops deploying to Vietnam as trainers to get the Vietnamese up to speed on their new gear.

The State Department is already working on an initiative that could bring ground troops to Vietnam. The Vietnam Peacekeeping Center is a joint effort with the Vietnam and the U.S. It’s a training center designed to help boost Vietnam’s ability to contribute to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

One thing the Vietnamese are interested in is the U.S. military’s advanced field medicine capabilities that have saved thousands of lives during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

4. China is watching. China and Vietnam have a tenuous relationship at the moment, mostly due to China’s aggressive pursuit of claims to 90 percent of the South China Sea. The two countries have fought each other in the past over their overlapping claims and China’s island building and aggressive tactics in the region are making them nervous.

For the U.S., that’s an opportunity to make an old enemy a new friend. President Obama made clear that he sees it as the natural end of a long process of normalizing relations with Vietnam.

With Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recent announcement that more U.S. troops and aircraft are going to be rotating through the Philippines, this new action on the other side of the South China Sea will have China concerned.

5. Changing times. The lifting of the arms sales ban underscores how much things have changed in the last half century. Adm. Bob Natter, a former U.S. 7th Fleet commander and a Silver Star recipient in the Vietnam War, captured it succinctly:

“Times change and we’ve got to adjust with the times,” Natter said. “We have more in common with Vietnam today than separates us, at least on a strategic level.”

Happy Memorial Day

 

heroes


Celebrate  Honor  Remember

Wall of Remembrance

 

Hiring and Support Summit

 To ALL transitioning service members, veterans, WWs and spouses

You are cordially invited to participate in the Dept of the Navy’s Veteran &
Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support Summit on Thursday, June 2nd at the
Doubletree by Hilton Hotel – Tampa Airport – Westshore, Tampa, FL. The
Hiring Fair is from 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM and will run in conjunction with
veteran focused workshops.

REGISTER at: http://www.HireAVet.navy.mil
-Updates and additional information also available on website above.
*WALK-INS are welcome
* Please bring employment support documentation IF ABLE (DD-214, Statement
of Service, Schedule A, Disability Rating, Transcripts etc.); not required

The Hiring Fair will be led by the Department of Defense’s Hiring Heroes.

The employers’ efforts will be focused on providing career opportunities as
well as on-site, interview opportunities for qualified wounded, ill,
injured, transitioning Service members, Veterans, their spouses, family
members and primary caregivers.

Thank you for your service and we look forward to seeing you there!

Annual Memorial Day Observance

American Legion Cemetery in Tampa, FL.   3810 W Kennedy Blvd Tampa, FL 33629


AmerLegion_color_EmblemMonday May 30, 2016Memorial Day 

         10:45-11:00 a.m  Organizations laying wreaths
         11:00 a.m.-12:00 noon Memorial Day Observance (rain or shine)
         12:00 noon-1:30 p.m.  Luncheon in the Legion Hall

This is an annual event conducted since 1922

American Legion Post #5 Event Details


 

‘Cannibalization is Routine’ to Support Navy Deployments

http://www.seapowermagazine.org/stories/20160526-cannibalize.html

By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Navy captains from the aviation, surface, submarine and construction communities told Congress May 26 that budget and personnel reductions have restricted their ability to surge forces to meet a crisis and often require them to “cannibalize people as well as parts” to support forward-deployed units.

Capts. Gregory McRae, deputy commander Submarine Squadron Six, and Scott Robertson, commander of the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy, both used the term “cannibalize” to describe the recurring necessity to strip components or to transfer trained personnel from vessels in port to allow other subs or warships to continue on deployment.

Capt. Randy Stearns, commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, said “cannibalization is routine” to provide replacement parts for his legacy F/A-18 Hornets to support the one in four of his squadrons that is considered fully combat ready.

Capt. Paul Odenthal, commander Naval Construction Group Two, said his Seabee units are fairly well equipped because the construction forces have been cut from 21 battalions to 11, but can only meet 80 percent of the combatant commanders’ (CoComs’) requirements, even with activated Reservists, and would have to draw heavily on the Reserves to respond to any crisis.

For the Navy to be fully ready, commander of Fleet Forces Command Adm. Phillip Davidson said, it must be able to “rotate the fleet out on routine deployments,” to “surge” forces in time of crises, and to maintain and modernize the fleet “to ensure it is credible” for any possible future fight.

“If there are not enough resources to do all three at once, we will emphasize readiness for deployment,” Davidson told a joint meeting of the House Armed Services’ seapower and projection forces and readiness subcommittees.

Davidson and the captains detailed how years of constrained budgets, reduced personnel levels, high operational tempos and slowdowns in depot maintenance have left them with no combat ready vessels or squadrons at home stations to respond to a crisis.

Seapower subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said the problem was even broader, because the Navy was only able to meet 56 percent of the CoComs’ requests for aircraft carriers, 54 percent for amphibious ready groups, 42 percent for attack submarines and 39 percent for cruisers and destroyers.

That data shows “we are not currently providing our Navy with the resources needed to do what we’ve asked. At least not without burning out our ships and our planes and our Sailors and undermining our long-term readiness,” Forbes said.

Readiness subcommittee chairman Rob Wittman, R-Va., expanded the scope of the problem even more, noting that “every service branch today is suffering from readiness shortfalls.”

Stearns said that because the strike fighter community must put all its spare parts, maintenance and trained personnel into supporting the deploying carrier air wings, “if you wanted to surge more than we have deployed, it would take me six to 12 months to get another wing ready.” Earlier in his career, Steans said, it would take 60 to 90 days to get another air wing ready to deploy.

“As of today. we don’t have that surge capability,” he said.

The strike fighters are short of combat-ready aircraft partly because the maintenance depots are not only trying to keep up with regular overhauls but are struggling to extend the flying hours of the legacy Hornets far beyond the expected service life, Stearns said.

And the shortage of aircraft in the non-deployed squadrons prevents the pilots from getting the flight hours they need to maintain combat proficiency, he added.

McCain amendment adds $17 billion to defense, increases pay

McCain amendment adds $17 billion to defense, increases pay

By Scott Maucione | @smaucioneWFED

http://federalnewsradio.com/defense/2016/05/mccain-amendment-adds-18-billion-defense-increases-pay/

May 26, 2016 1:30 pm
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Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to add $17 billion to the defense budget and force senators to take sides over defense on the Senate floor next week.

McCain’s amendment to the 2017 defense authorization bill would suspend the drawdown of the Army and Marine Corps and increase the pay raise for active duty troops to 2.1 percent.

If passed, the amendment will reconcile some of the most glaring differences between the House version of the bill and Senate version of the bill. That could save lawmakers a lot of arguing if the bill makes it to conference further in the legislative process.

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has already said he is supportive of the amendment.

McCain’s amendment authorizes the Army to keep its active duty troop levels at 475,000, the Navy at about 326,000, the Marine Corps at 185,000 and the Air Force at 321,000.

That’s a big change considering the Army is planning to bring its active duty levels to 450,000 by 2018. In the past year, a majority of those involuntarily separated from the Army have been experienced officers and enlisted soldiers with 20 years or more of experience.

The amendment also stops drawdowns in the National Guard and Reserves.

Justin Johnson, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said adding those troops will be a costly endeavor. He estimates the price tag at $1.5 billion to $2 billion just for 2017. That doesn’t include enduring costs.

The amendment increases procurement for the services. It calls for an additional 10 Apache helicopters, consistent with the recommendation by the National Commission on the Future of the Army. Those helicopters would cost $71 million.

The amendment increases funds for Navy aircraft procurement, Army tank modernization and adds nearly $2 billion for Navy ship building and conversion.

McCain also wants to give hundreds of millions of dollars in procurement funds for Israel’s missile defense programs.

Last week, McCain said he was unsure of the amendment’s fate.

“I don’t know whether or not the amendment will succeed, but the Senate must have this debate and senators must choose a side,” McCain said.

McCain’s Democratic counterpart on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), is in favor of increased defense spending, but he would want to see an increase in domestic spending to go along with it, said a committee staffer.

Last year, President Barack Obama vetoed the defense authorization bill over concerns that it raised defense spending without increasing domestic spending. It’s possible many Senate Democrats will feel the same way about increasing the defense caps this year.

McCain did not say whether he supported an increase in the domestic spending caps, but said he would like to see more funding for agencies like the FBI, CIA and Director of National Intelligence.

The House defense authorization and defense appropriations bills have already built in extra funds for DoD through some budgetary acrobatics, a move critics have called a “gimmick.”

The House Armed Services Committee plans to take $18 billion from Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and move it into the base budget. That $18 billion would be used to fund an increased military pay raise and to bolster troop levels by 27,000.

What would be left in OCO is $41 billion, instead of the original $59 billion requested by the President. That’s enough to cover the wars until April 2017.

At that point, if the new President wants more money, he can ask Congress for an additional wartime fund.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has already expressed his displeasure over how the House plans to increase the defense budget.

“It’s gambling with warfighting money at a time of war — proposing to cut off funding for ongoing operations in the middle of the fiscal year. Moreover, it would spend money taken from the war account on things that are not DoD’s highest priorities across the joint force,” Carter said during a speech this week. “And it’s another road to nowhere, with uncertain chances of ever becoming law, and a high probability of leading to more gridlock and another continuing resolution — exactly the kind of terrible distraction we’ve seen for years, that undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles friends and emboldens foes.”

The White House said the President would veto the House plan if it came to the President’s desk.

Adm. Michelle Howard picked to lead U.S. Navy forces in Europe

http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/05/19/howard-picked-lead-us-navy-forces-europe/84624958/

President Obama has nominated the Navy’s highest-ranking woman to lead U.S. Navy forces in Europe.

Adm. Michelle Howard is tapped to head U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Forces Command, in Naples, Italy, according to a Thursday Defense Department announcement.

NAVY TIMES
Navy’s first female admiral lined up for another 4-star post

Howard, a 1982 Naval Academy graduate, has had a storied career. She was the first black woman to command a U.S. warship and would later oversee the counter-piracy task force that freed civilian Capt. Richard Phillips, which was the subject of the movie “Captain Phillips.” She also was the first woman to reach the rank of 4-star admiral.

MILITARYTIMES
Howard receives fourth star, makes history

The daughter of an Air Force master sergeant, she said she confronted prejudice early in her naval career; peers say she built a career by taking tough jobs. She has served for two years as the vice chief of naval operations.

If confirmed, Howard will replace the outgoing Adm. Mark Ferguson, who has led NAVEUR since 2014.

Federal Budget Update

by Greg Lankler – Mercury – from Weekly Military Information published by Debbie Miller with Celestar

30 March 2016
The House and Senate both adjourned for the Easter Recess without making much progress on the budget front. The House continues to struggle to reach agreement on a budget resolution to establish the framework for consideration of appropriations bills. The main sticking point in the House is the total spending level for Fiscal Year 2017. A majority of House Republicans and Democrats want to adhere to the levels agreed to last December as part of the budget deal that set the total at $1.070 trillion dollars. However, Republicans in the Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee have balked at this figure and indicated they will not support a budget resolution or appropriations bills that are brought to the House floor at this level. The Republican leadership continues to try to come up with ways to get out of this bind. Various proposals have been suggested that would enable House floor votes to reduce spending by as much as $30 billion below the budget deal. But the proposals continue to be met with skepticism and have failed to gain any traction.
Despite the lack of a budget resolution, the House Appropriations Committee has begun considering appropriations bills, drafted assuming the $1.070 trillion level. The Committee is pursuing a strategy that at least gets the 12 appropriations bills through the committee while the House Republican Leadership struggles to come up with a strategy that can get the bills approved on House floor without relying on a large number of Democrat votes for passage. Doing so would enrage House conservatives and could spark another revolt against House leadership similar to that Republicans went through last fall when Speaker Boehner retired. The Appropriations Committee approved the first bill, providing funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense military construction projects, last week. The Committee will resume consideration of additional bills as soon as the House reconvenes on April 12th. However, without an agreement on the total spending level, it is unlikely more than a few bills will ever get approved by the House.
In the Senate, the picture is much different. Majority Leader McConnell has made it clear that the deal agreed to last December is the deal, and expects appropriations bills to be written and considered by the Senate at that level – with or without a budget resolution. While this will enable the appropriations bills to move much smoother through that chamber, the risk of the open amendment process in the Senate leaves plenty of opportunity for political mischief to derail the whole process at any point. A fact which is only exacerbated in a presidential election year.
The discouraging reality in all this is that we are likely facing the arrival of a new fiscal year on October 1st without anything more than one or two appropriations bills enacted into law, and the need for a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open until after the elections in November. At which point we will begin the usual “threat of a government shutdown kabuki dance” between the political parties. But to stay positive, we’ve been there and done that, so everybody should pretty much have their moves memorized by now. And with a new Administration beginning next January, everybody will be motivated to clear the decks and come to an agreement – hopefully before Christmas.
A lot can still happen between now and then which could portend a much more productive legislative session. But in Washington, they say a pessimist is just an optimist with experience.