There is good news this morning for the U.S. military. Earlier today the House passed bill HR 933, which gives funding to the armed services and some budget flexibility through September of this year. This bodes well for the immediate transitional period, providing the Senate will pass it, as automatic “sequestration” cuts are set to slam portions of the defense budget.
Against a backdrop of discord and dissension between Democrat and Republican lawmakers, HR 933 will accomplish short-term goals. In testimony to Congress just before the vote was taken, military leaders spoke in emphatic language about the importance of passing the bill to keep the nation’s state of military readiness at acceptable levels.
Prior to the bill’s passage, Congressional chairman Mike Rodgers commented to the Rules Committee regarding HR 933: “Without this bill, the Pentagon could face serious funding shortfalls that, when combined with sequestration, would have serious and potentially harmful repercussions on our national security.” With the bill’s passage, Rogers called upon Senator Reid and Senate Democrats to debate the bill immediately. “Should it become law, this bill could offer a little breathing room to the Department of Defense by offering certainty to their budget that was indiscriminately slashed by President Obama’s sequestration plan.”
Only about a quarter of the 2012 bills that passed the House also passed in the Senate. Will this be one of those bills? Let’s hope so. Perhaps the most important thing HR 933 will accomplish is to avoid a government shutdown on March 27 when the current funding resolution expires. President Obama and Senate leaders have gone on record saying they do not want another government shutdown. I don’t know of anyone who thinks that a government shutdown would have any positive effect on the struggling U.S. economy.
Something this bill accomplishes, and I think this is really important to note, is that it gives the military flexibility so operating money can be reallocated within each military branch to where it is needed most. In committee testimony prior to the bill’s passing, military brass also stressed the need for moving money from less-critical accounts into operations and maintenance accounts to fund key training exercises and resume critical construction projects and weapons purchases (a need that HR 933 accommodates).
With the good news of the House passing this bill, comes a sobering reality: it is clear that the indiscriminate military cuts required by “sequestration” will cause much pain in the military community. For example, commissary operations take a $130 million hit this year, forcing military bases to close their commissaries on Wednesdays (their slowest day). Commissary closures coincide with one-day-a-week furloughs planned for up to 800,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense.
Besides reductions and furloughs, military branches face the sobering reality of actual cuts. For example, civilian staff will be cut at:
- Military hospitals and clinics
- Defense-run dependent schools
- Base day care centers.
It remains to be seen if HR 933 becomes law. But there is ample reason for optimism. We have been through a period as contentious and quarrelsome as any in recent memory. There is a public sense of fatigue in all this. Let’s hope Washington feels it as well and realizes the time is right for a little cooperation.