Congressional leaders have abandoned plans to pass any more full-year spending bills in the December lame duck session, delaying resolution on the defense budget for fiscal 2017 until at least April of next year.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., on Thursday said leaders in both congressional chambers made the decision not to move forward with any long-term spending bills for the rest of this year, which could restrict funding plans for President-elect Donald Trump's new administration.

"While I'm disappointed that the Congress is not going to be able to complete our annual funding work this year, I am extremely hopeful that the new Congress and the new administration will finish these bills," he said in a statement.

"I am also hopeful for a renewed and vigorous 'regular order' on future annual funding bills, so that the damaging process of continuing resolutions will no longer be necessary."

Rogers said his staff has already begun work on a budget bridge bill to keep government operations uninterrupted through March 2017, six months into fiscal 2017.

In recent weeks, defense lawmakers and Pentagon officials have warned that a temporary budget plan could be harmful to military operations, given the spending restrictions it places on new program starts and expansions.

This week, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said he was still hopeful a short-term budget resolution could be avoided.

"For defense, CRs are always bad, and the longer they are the more damage they do," he said.

In September, Defense Secretary Ash Carter angrily lectured senators during a Capitol Hill hearing about the dangers of repeated continuing resolutions, calling them "strategically unsound" and "unfairly dispiriting to our troops, to their families and our workforce."

At the time, he said a temporary budget deal past December would undermine plans to boost the European Reassurance Initiative and "shortchange our war fighters."

Gordon Adams, a former top defense official at the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton administration and a current Stimson Center fellow, called the continuing resolution a massive bookkeeping headache for the Pentagon. Among other problems, it leaves the question of what Congress will do with the Pentagon's recent supplemental request for Afghanistan and Iraq operations, and whether those needs will get funded.

"Is this good for the Pentagon? No," Adams said. "If it's extended, the Pentagon will seek some special language for things it must do."

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-NJ, told CQ on Thursday it "remains to be seen" whether Congress will also try to attach a supplemental spending package for war efforts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Asked about that prospect, Rogers told CQ, "We're going to try. It's obviously terribly important."

But the decision on a temporary budget deal could help congressional leaders finish the defense authorization bill before the end of the year. Negotiators involved with the annual military policy bill have said progress on that legislation has been stalled in recent weeks because of uncertainty over funding levels related to the appropriations process.

In September, as part of a temporary spending bill extending government funding until December, lawmakers did approve a full-year budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects, making those accounts the only ones with budget certainty through September 2017.

The fiscal 2017 budget debate delay leaves Congress and the incoming Trump administration with an already busy schedule for next spring, with the fiscal 2018 budget, debt ceiling extension and sequestration repeal already on the schedule. 

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.



Joe Gould is a senior reporter covering the US Congress for Defense News. He can be reached at jgould@defensenews.com .