Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday urged lawmakers to pass a full-year budget for his department as soon as possible, warning that another short-term spending extension could imperil military readiness and family support efforts.
“If the [current budget extension] extends beyond December, we may be forced to reduce accessions or permanent change of station moves, impairing our ability to meet our missions and causing unnecessary disruption to our families and our ability to recruit personnel,” Austin wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders.
“It is impairing our ability to hire the people we need to accelerate our efforts to eradicate sexual assault and prevent suicide. [It] is delaying needed investments in military infrastructure, including barracks and child care centers.”
Congress approved a short-term budget extension in September after lawmakers failed to agree upon a full-year spending plan by the start of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1. That temporary extension is set to run out on Dec. 16.
Negotiations for a full-year budget have been ongoing for the past few months, but Democratic and Republican leaders have yet to announce a deal. Some Republican House members have pushed for a final plan to be postponed until early next year, when they will have control of the chamber and stronger negotiating power.
While another budget extension would prevent a partial government shutdown, department leaders like Austin have been warning that such a move solves only a few of the appropriations problems facing the department.
The defense secretary in his letter said that military leaders are operating with nearly $3 billion less a month in funding than they expected under the new fiscal 2023 budget. That has delayed new program starts, new contract agreements and a host of other spending decisions.
“The [budget extension] costs us time as well as money, and money can’t buy back time, especially for lost training events,” Austin wrote.
“We must break this pattern of extensive inaction. We can’t outcompete China with our hands tied behind our back three, four, five or six months of every fiscal year.”
White House officials have asked for a military appropriation of about $800 billion for fiscal 2023, which would be around 2.5% above the fiscal 2022 level. House and Senate lawmakers have proposed a range of spending above that mark, as high as an 8% increase.
The short-term budget extensions become more complicated at the end of the fiscal year due to the annual military pay raise. Troops are in line for a 4.6% raise starting in January, money that is not included in the fiscal 2022 budget extension levels. Paying for those higher wages without new extra money could mean cutting into training and readiness initiatives.
Austin’s plea for Congress to return to meeting its annual budget deadlines is not unique to the current administration. That same message has been echoed for more than a decade through both Republican- and Democratic-controlled White Houses, as partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill has made routine business increasingly more complicated.
Leaders from both parties have expressed optimism that they will reach an appropriations deal in the coming weeks.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.