Impeachment Slows All Hill Defense Biz; DoD Approps On Life Support

There’s not a lot of confidence out there about the prospects for a 2020 budget agreement. “A stripped down mini-NDAA may be all that could pass this year for defense,” says one long-time budget watcher.


WASHINGTON: As the House of Representatives gears up to impeach President Trump, it’s getting harder and harder for anyone involved in defense to get a hearing with leadership, and the chances for a defense appropriations bill appear to be getting smaller every day.

While the chances for a second year of regular order (actually passing spending and major policy bills) already seemed unlikely, impeachment is sucking the oxygen out of the room, leaving regular order gasping for air. President Trump’s decision to take $3.6 billion from military construction accounts to build the so-called wall along the border with Mexico probably killed the chances for a defense spending bill. Add impeachment and the experts say abandon hope, all ye who enter the Capitol.

“The appropriations process has been on life support for some time since it became obvious that the House was not coming off their insistence on limitations on the border wall,” says Bill Greenwalt, longtime Senate Armed Services Committee staffer. Despite the budget deal agreement that talked about no ‘poison pills’ on the appropriations bills, “any compromise at this point would be considered capitulation by either side,” he added.

Even if a bill did pass with restrictions on wall spending, Greenwalt thinks President Trump would veto it, eager to prove he can get his signature campaign promise done, even if Mexico won’t pay for it.

“It is doubtful at this stage there are enough Republicans that can somehow interpret a limitation on wall funding as not a poison pill to have enough votes to override a veto,” he added. “I don’t see the numbers for that. The appropriators could punt and let the authorizers handle the issue as there are similar restrictions on the House NDAA. That would likely kill the authorization process as the President’s veto would just move to the NDAA.”

Mackenzie Eaglen, defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute, member of the Breaking D Board of Contributors and one of the best defense budget prognosticators around, agrees with Greenwalt. “Impeachment,” she says, “just adds fuel to that fire.”

President Trump signed off on on one Continuing Resolution on Sept. 27, which lasts until Nov. 21, one week before Thanksgiving.

Greenwalt, a member of the Breaking D Board of Contributors, argues that we’re more likely to see a series of CRs culminating in a year-long CR than any real compromise.

“A stripped down mini-NDAA may be all that could pass this year for defense as well,” he adds. “Under this scenario, DOD will need to ask for as many anomalies they can get in each upcoming CR,” Greenwalt says, pointing to the programs that will otherwise not be allowed to start. It also would give defense authorizers the power to place restrictions and requirements on programs about which they are concerned. “Given the growing threats in the world, this is not a great situation, but it may be the best DOD can get.”

So, is there any hope for a defense spending bill?

“The only thing that can salvage the 2020 budget process and bills will be (Senate Majority Leader Mitch)  McConnell and (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi and a few others singlehandedly and decidedly acting without any White House involvement,” Eaglen thinks.

Consider how many stories from Capitol Hill you’ve read in the last two weeks that deal with anything other than impeachment and I think you’ve got a good sense of how likely that intervention is.


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