Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain blasted congressional leaders as "idiots" for their decision to pursue a short-term budget plan instead of yearlong appropriations bills, saying the move will harm national security.
"I think it's one of the worst mistakes we could ever make," the Arizona Republican said Thursday. "The president-elect of the United States has said over and over we need to spend more money on defense, to build up our Army, Navy, Air Force. But what we're going to do is in effect cut $12 billion."
McCain said military readiness will suffer "if these idiots say they want to go through with a continuing resolution," a measure used to extend current government spending levels for a fixed and often brief duration.
Earlier in the day, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers announced Republican leaders in both congressional chambers made the decision not to move forward with any long-term spending bills for the rest of this year, because that could restrict funding plans for President-elect Donald Trump's new administration. Instead, lawmakers plan to pass a budget bill extending fiscal 2016 levels until April 2017, halfway through the new fiscal year.
In an angry Senate floor speech, McCain pleaded for his colleagues to reconsider and pass an appropriations bill when they return from Thanksgiving break later this month.
"We are harming [troops’] ability to do [missions] with a continuing resolution, and adding additional funds later in the year would be too little, too late," he said. "We’re just papering over our failure to give troops the resources they need when they need it. Readiness tomorrow does not replace readiness today."
Off the floor, he called the leadership decision "disgraceful" and dangerous. He also said the move undercuts his committee’s work on the annual defense authorization bill, since many of the programs approved in that legislation won’t have any money to operate without an accompanying new appropriations measure.
"If we authorize additional F-35s, and we’re on a continuing resolution and you’re going on previous year’s funding, then it’s not funded," he said. "And we’re authorizing so much."
Negotiators have said they expect that measure to be completed in early December. Congress has passed the defense authorization bill for more than 50 consecutive years, and McCain said he is confident that even the appropriations moves won’t end that streak.
Drafts of the authorization being finalized include language setting the pay raise for troops next year, overhauls to military housing allowances and military health care, and a host of other benefits changes.
Defense officials have called both pieces of legislation crucial to their operations, and warned that a lengthy delay in finalizing the full-year defense appropriations measure will be harmful to readiness and modernization priorities. Follow @LeoShane
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.