Austin sounds alarm over fiscal gridlock

By Tony Bertuca / December 6, 2021 at 12:10 PM

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today said ongoing partisan gridlock in Congress could imperil the Pentagon's budget, forcing billions of dollars in cuts should lawmakers be unable to pass a government funding package.

Congress last week agreed to a stopgap continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded through Feb. 18. But Austin today released a statement saying he is worried a dysfunctional Congress may opt for a full-year CR in the coming months.

“While the short-term CR passed by Congress was a necessary measure to keep the government open and provide additional time to reach agreement on full-year appropriations bills, some have even suggested a CR could last an entire year, an unprecedented move that would cause enormous, if not irreparable, damage for a wide range of bipartisan priorities -- from defense readiness and modernization, to research and development, to public health,” Austin said.

A CR, among other things, typically locks the Pentagon’s budget at previous-year levels and prohibits new contracts for weapons programs and production increases. Though many analysts see the possibility of a full-year CR as remote, the concern has become almost an annual tradition in Washington.

“A full-year CR,” Austin said, “would be a fiscally unsound way of funding the Department of Defense and government as a whole. It would misalign billions of dollars in resources in a manner inconsistent with evolving threats and the national security landscape, which would erode the U.S. military advantage relative to China, impede our ability to innovate and modernize, degrade readiness, and hurt our people and their families. And it would offer comfort to our enemies, disquiet to our allies, and unnecessary stress to our workforce.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) last week warned lawmakers that Congress continues to inch closer toward a full-year CR that would reduce defense spending by $37 billion below the level being proposed by the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

Austin said Congress’ failure to reach a final spending agreement would result in more than $5 billion in cuts to operations accounts and “significantly impact” new technology programs.

“The department’s efforts to address innovation priorities such as cyber, artificial intelligence and hypersonics programs would be slowed,” he said.

The full-year CR would also impact more than 100 military construction projects.

“And make no mistake about it,” Austin said, “the impacts of those delays would be felt not only across the department, but also in local communities around the country as job opportunities are lost and revenue for local businesses diminishes.”

Austin said DOD is beginning to “knit together a truly groundbreaking vision of integrated deterrence.”

But a full-year CR, he said, would mean DOD would be “forced to spend money on things we don’t need and stop spending money on investments we desperately do need.”