Documents obtained by CNN warn of major consequences under a full-year continuing resolution
A CR would keep the military's budget at last year's level and block new programs
The Navy will cancel ship deployments and shut down carrier air wings. The Air Force will ground all non-deploying squadrons in the US. Blue Angel shows will be scrapped, and Fleet Weeks cut. Thousands of bonuses for troops will go unpaid.
Those are just some consequences the military services are warning Congress about if the legislature doesn’t pass a comprehensive spending plan for the rest of this year, according to military documents sent to Capitol Hill and obtained by CNN. The warnings underscore major concerns that Congress may punt on the politically dicey budget process by simply approving a full-year continuing resolution keeping the budget at its current levels instead.
The Pentagon has long warned that military readiness has been cut to the bone by years of constrained budgets, and the latest predictions spell out a stark loss of capabilities. But the looming showdown on Capitol Hill over spending between Democrats, Republicans and the Trump administration may be too politically fraught to stave off the damage that the military warns is coming.
The services hope their point is blunt enough to get Congress to listen. Congressional advocates for higher defense spending plan to point to the lengthy list of potential canceled trainings, maintenance and deployments to pressure lawmakers to cut a deal on spending before the April 28 deadline, after which the government would shut down for lack of approved spending.
Striking a comprehensive budget deal that can secure enough votes in both the House and Senate will be a difficult political task, however.
House and Senate appropriations leaders working on an agreement must navigate the tricky politics of everything from Planned Parenthood funding to the border wall, and there’s not much time, with less than a month before the funding deadline and a two-week congressional recess on the horizon.
The politically easier continuing resolution, however, would result in less spending than the military has requested in its budget, as well as include restrictions on starting new programs under the rules of the CR.
But the military and its allies are determined to keep that from happening.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona threatened Wednesday that he would vote to shut down the government before he would vote for a continuing resolution.
“If that’s the only option, I will not vote for a CR no matter what the consequences, because passing a CR destroys the ability of the military to defend this nation, and it puts the lives of the men and women in the military at risk,” McCain said. “I can’t do that to them.”
Democrats on the defense committees also agree the military should not be stuck with a continuing resolution.
But the military’s warnings about readiness could get overshadowed by larger fights over issues like abortion, as well as the deep cuts to domestic programs the Trump administration has proposed to pay for higher defense spending in next year’s budget and a $30 billion supplemental spending boost requested earlier this month.
“There is a sense of urgency over the question of readiness, and we want to help them,” Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin said of the preparedness of the military. “Unfortunately, the President’s approach to helping them is to cut medical research to pay for it. That’s very short-sighted.”
The House Armed Services Committee has scheduled a high-profile hearing next week with the full slate of military service chiefs to explain to the public – and other lawmakers – what the impact would be if Congress passes a full-year continuing resolution.
“They need to know what the consequences are,” House Armed Services Chairman Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry told CNN.
The memos, first reported by Congressional Quarterly, highlight the problems the military brass will detail, with stark warnings that a continuing resolution would exacerbate the military’s readiness problems.
Among the impacts:
• The Army states in its memo sent to Capitol Hill that most units in Army Forces Command would stop training in July, which means brigade combat teams, a grouping of about 3,500 soldiers, deploying to Korea and Europe would cease training while in the US.
• The Navy warns that it would cancel three warship deployments, creating gaps in Europe and the Middle East, and it would shut down four of the nine groups of aircraft on Navy carriers that aren’t deployed.
• The Marine Corps said that North American flight operations would be stopped for 24 squadrons, which would “significantly worsen” Marine aviation readiness, and precision and training ammunitions would be reduced.
• And the Air Force said it would ground all non-deploying squadrons starting in May, as well as reduce flying hours that would lead to “a drastic reduction in readiness capabilities in order to continue operations through the end of fiscal year.”
But if recent history is any guide, the military’s detailed memos may not be able to sway Congress.
Military leaders issued similar doomsday warnings about sequestration that failed to stop the across-the-board cuts in 2013, with the military stuck in the middle of a larger fight on taxes and entitlements. The budget caps from sequestration are still on the books.
“The readiness challenges are a less potent argument than they have been in the past, and the politics of budgets are poisonous all around,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “So if there’s ever was going to be a year-long CR for defense in recent memory, this would be the year.”