The ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump is, of course, big news worthy of a great deal of coverage. Depending on how the inquiry goes, Trump may well become the third president in history ever to be impeached, and although the chances of a Republican controlled Senate removing him from office are so small they practically don’t exist, Americans are far more interested in that unlikely possibility than they are in the usual bureaucratic processes of Washington.
The problem is that outside of the impeachment media circus, the bureaucracy in Washington is a little too business as usual: The federal government has once again failed to pass the nation’s defense budget prior to the start of the new fiscal year, thereby placing countless programs in limbo and once again compromising maintenance, training and readiness operations that could save service members’ lives.
The new fiscal year started at the beginning of this month, meaning that the U.S. military is now operating under what’s called continuing resolution spending, which is effectively a financial stopgap that allows the government to keep from shutting its doors while Democrats and Republicans wait until the last possible minute to duke it out over lines of accounting. Under continuing resolution spending, new programs and initiatives cannot be started; many ongoing programs that rely on outside contractors grind to a halt; and the entire military apparatus is stuck having its belt tightened by a strangulating lack of funding, rather than a strategic budget reduction.
Maintenance of U.S. Navy ships has been among the first victims of the government’s inability to pass the budget. Scheduled maintenance programs for destroyers USS Bainbridge and USS Gonzalez have already been placed on hold as a result of continuing resolution spending, thus increasing the already troubling ship maintenance backlog and setting the entire maintenance schedule back by months. According to Navy officials, they already have plans to cancel or differ maintenance for fourteen vessels, as well as a mid-life overhaul for the Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, if the budget isn’t worked out sooner than later.
“Ship maintenance is a very hard, complicated job to do as it is,” James Geurts, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, told reporters on Friday. “It is nearly impossible when you have unpredictability in the budget.”
The reverberating effects of continuing resolution spending will last months or longer, as defense-industry partners stop hiring employees, freeze material orders and even take on other jobs to compensate for frozen programs. Once the gears of America’s government start turning again, it can still take weeks or longer before the frozen programs start up again.
Congress has until October 1 each year to pass the following year’s budget, but since the global war on terror has begun, Congress has failed to do so nearly every year, forcing America’s military apparatus to function for months of each year without a clear budget and with new initiatives frozen as lawmakers debate partisan elements of the nation’s spending that often have nothing to do with defense operations.
This year, for instance, the primary issue preventing lawmakers from moving forward on passing the budget is an inability to find common ground regarding Trump’s Mexican border wall, but it’s not the only issue. Debate about funding Planned Parenthood is included in the mix as well. Of course, this sort of partisan bickering taking priority over the nation’s defense is nothing new. Here’s what Former Acting Defense Secretary (Deputy Defense Secretary at the time) Patrick M. Shanahan had to say about continuing resolution spending when this happened in 2017:
“I will say, a couple of the Department’s behaviors strike me as abnormal. First, operating without a budget is not normal. Doing so every year for nine years is really not normal. Next, airplanes are meant to fly. A service with a significant number of its airplanes grounded and awaiting maintenance is not normal.”
“Part of my job as a leader is guarding against the normalization of abnormal behaviors within the Department. A high level of performance is not only expected of our military, it is essential for America’s security, no matter the constraints.”
And here is what then Defense Secretary James Mattis had to say about continuing resolution spending when we found ourselves back in the same position in 2018:
“As hard as the last 16 years of war have been, no enemy in the field has done as much to harm the readiness of the U.S. military than the combined impact of the Budget Control Act’s defense spending caps, worsened by operating for 10 of the last 11 years under continuing resolution’s varied and unpredictable duration.”
“The Budget Control Act was purposefully designed to be so injurious that it would force Congress to pass necessary budgets — it was never intended to be the solution.”
Whether you believe that the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump is founded or not, there’s no denying that it will have a continuing effect on Congress’ ability to pass a budget which, in my point of view, isn’t all that different from business as usual over the past three years.
Under President Trump, Republicans and Democrats alike have dismissed large portions of their respective political platforms in favor of a Trump-centric form of politics in which the only thing that matters at any given point is attacking or defending this one man. Worse still, America at large embraces this approach to government, with Republicans clamoring for POTUS to stick it to “Never Trumpers” and Democrats seeking new and creative ways to demonstrate their distaste for the man on the political stage. With both teams staring squarely at Trump, it’s hard for anyone to keep their eye on the ball.
“For too long, the United States has asked its military to carry on stoically with a success-at-any-cost attitude,” Mattis said last year, adding that U.S. troops work tirelessly to accomplish every mission with increasingly inadequate and misaligned resources, “simply because Congress has not maintained regular order.”
“I ask that you not let disagreements on domestic policy continue to hold our nation’s defense hostage.”