WASHINGTON — The Senate will take up the annual defense spending bill, part of a package that includes other government spending, amid hopes to see it quickly become law — but Congress could still muck it up.
Finalizing appropriations before the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, would avert the need for a stopgap spending measure and give lawmakers who are running in the midterms bragging rights ahead of Election Day, Nov. 8. (Stopgap continuing resolutions have been the norm for years, but they disrupt new acquisition programs.)
As the Senate takes up the bill Monday, the immediate challenge for its leaders will be to avoid controversial amendments that give their sponsors campaign fodder but endanger final passage of the bill. The upper chamber abbreviated its August recess, but the House does not return until Sept. 4, when it will have only 12 working days before the end of the fiscal year to pass its spending legislation.
Lawmakers from both chambers will also have to use that time to negotiate a compromise between the two versions of appropriations legislation and win the signature of President Donald Trump, who has threatened a government shutdown if he believes border wall funding is too low.
The Senate package joins spending for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies to the Pentagon bill, which contains $607 billion in base and $68 billion in wartime spending, hewing to the larger bipartisan budget deal.
“[Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis — a decorated general who commands deep respect on both sides of the aisle — has warned that ‘failure to modernize our military risks leaving us with a force that could dominate the last war, but be irrelevant to tomorrow’s security,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We cannot allow that to happen. We must rebuild America’s military.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.