There is no chance Congress will pass an appropriations bill by Oct. 1, House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, center, said Sept. 7. (Thomas Brown / Staff file photo)
With 23 days left before the end of the fiscal year, there is zero chance Congress will pass an appropriations bill for 2012, according to House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon.
Instead, it will have to pass a continuing resolution to keep federal agencies, such as the Defense Department, funded past Sept. 30, the Republican congressman told reporters Wednesday.
Last year, Congress relied on seven temporary spending measures before finally passing a 2011 spending bill seven months into the fiscal year and on the brink of a government shutdown. Without a spending bill, the Pentagon couldn't start new programs, creating widespread uncertainty at DoD and throughout industry.
That cycle looks poised to repeat itself, however, this year it could prove to be even messier, with the congressional super committee looking for $1.2 trillion in savings, the Pentagon conducting a strategic review and with the presidential election looming in 2012.
The number of possible budget scenarios is making it complicated to plan both inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.
McKeon said the level of spending cuts for defense seems to be changing so quickly it is difficult to keep up. He cited former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' efficiency initiatives, President Obama's April announcement to cut $400 billion, the $350 billion in the Budget Control Act passed in August, and finally the possibility that the super committee will cut further or will fail to reach a consensus, triggering across the board cuts for the Pentagon starting in 2013.
"It's happening so fast, it's just kind of mind-boggling," McKeon said.
"We've got to get our arms around it. We're studying that now. Our staff over the break has been looking at this, trying to relate all of these different cuts and what they actually mean."
McKeon said he'd like to see a strategy behind the cuts.
"There's no discussion of what is the mission for the military — what are we going to ask them to do?" he said.
While McKeon remains concerned, he's heartened by the outreach from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"He's reached out more than I would have expected. I'm very happy with his attempt to partner with us and work together," McKeon said.