Magazine article National Defense

Defense Budget Process Is Broken and Needs a Fix

Magazine article National Defense

Defense Budget Process Is Broken and Needs a Fix

Article excerpt

Members of Congress involved in the annual authorization and appropriations process for the Department of Defense take their responsibilities--as spelled out in Article I, Section VIII of the U.S. Constitution, to "... provide for the common defense ..."--very seriously. Although there are always disagreements on specific programs and funding levels, there is agreement that the legislation must be passed in a timely manner each year to provide for our military forces.

Unfortunately, for the past several years the process has stumbled along. Only at nearly the last possible minute has Congress completed action. This may be the first year in recent history when the process breaks down entirely.

The annual defense authorization process is required for several major issues, such as military personnel levels, pay raises and construction--all of which must be specifically authorized by law each year. The authorization bill also sets funding levels for all procurement, research and development, operations and maintenance, health care, and other military requirements.

The appropriations bill must be passed prior to the end of each fiscal year--September 30th--or operations must cease, as happened briefly in 1995. To avoid shutdowns, Congress usually passes a continuing resolution, allowing an agency to continue operations, but only at the previous year's level.

This is the way the process is supposed to work: The president sends his proposed budget to Congress usually in late January or early February: Authorization and appropriations committees of the House and Senate review the budget, hold hearings and recommend changes.

Then, the armed services committees of both houses present their recommendations--called authorizations--to the full House and Senate for approval. After that takes place, the appropriations committees present their recommendations.

Once approved by each chamber of Congress, the armed services and appropriation committees meet separately in conference committees to work out the differences in each set of recommendations.

This year, both the defense authorization and appropriations expected a quick resolution because of the urgent needs of the military, which is fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the process has bogged down yet again in a political swamp that may not be escapable. This is how it happened:

On February 7th, the president presented his 2006 defense budget to Congress, requesting $419.3 billion, a 4.8 percent increase over 2005.

On May 19th, the House Armed Services Committee approved $441.6 billion and included an additional $49.1 billion emergency supplemental funding for the wars.

On May 25th, the full House approved the committee's recommendations.

On June 7th, the House Appropriations Committee appropriated $363.7 billion, excluding military construction, which is provided separately, and adding another $45.3 billion in emergency supplemental funding.

On June 20th, the full House approved that committee's recommendations.

Under the constitution, all funding bills must originate in the House. Thus, the Senate must wait for the House to act. The Senate Armed Services Committee on May 13th approved $441.6 billion for defense, including $50 billion for wartime operations.

The full Senate began its deliberations in early July, but quickly mired itself in a plethora of controversial amendments. …

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