WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday that Congress will likely have to pass another stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown and buy time for more 2018 spending negotiations.
Just days ago, there seemed to be growing support for completing a two-year spending deal by Jan. 19, when the current continuing resolution funding mechanism expires.
But those high-level talks were roiled by President Donald Trump’s vulgar comments to describe Haiti and Africa, during a White House meeting with lawmakers. Ryan called the comments, “very unfortunate, unhelpful.”
To boot, pro-defense lawmakers, who say short-term spending bills damage the military, are threatening to vote against another stopgap bill without a long-term deal in hand to boost the defense spending.
If the new continuing resolution does pass, it would be the fourth, almost four months into fiscal 2018.
Still, in an interview Friday in his home state, Wisconsin, Ryan maintained there would be no government shutdown. Talks to ease statutory budget caps — wherein Democrats want any defense increase matched on the non-defense side — are advancing, he said.
“I don’t think there will be,” a government shutdown, Ryan said. “I think we’re making progress with what we call the caps deal.”
Ryan said he is driven by concern for the military, whose planning and operations are disrupted by unstable budgeting. Under a CR, the military may continue to spend at the previous year’s level, but it’s barred from starting new acquisitions programs.
“My personal concern in this area is our Air Force is as small as it’s ever been, half our Navy planes can’t fly, only about ten of our Army combat brigade teams are combat ready,” Ryan said. “We are seeing more and more training accidents and fatalities because of our military funding.”
Ryan acknowledged last year’s fatal collisions involving the Navy’s U.S.S. John McCain and U.S.S. Fitzgerald, saying, “This is becoming a fairly dire thing.”
To avoid a Christmas shutdown, House GOP leadership had to convince hawkish lawmakers, who argue the ongoing budget saga is harming military readiness, to vote for the last CR.
House Democrats largely withheld their votes from the CR as leverage on on immigration, forcing GOP leaders to unify their unruly caucus.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested Thursday that without a deal on immigration, Democrats would again place the onus on Republicans. “There’s no point in having another CR unless we have an agreement on,” immigration and disaster aid, said Pelosi, D-Calif.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and panel Republicans are seeking a defense spending boost to more than $700 billion. That hinges on the deal to ease statutory budget caps and an omnibus spending bill.
On Thursday, House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chair Mike Rogers, R-Ala., told Defense News that if there is no deal in hand, or a deal without “a good defense number,” hawkish lawmakers would revolt and vote against the CR.
“The only way that it gets members to vote for it is if the deal has been made and [appropriators] just need time to write [the omnibus],” Rogers said. “Once they cut a deal, somebody’s got to go write it, and it could take a couple weeks to get it done. We’re cool with that.”
Speaking hours before the president’s remarks jarred negotiations, Rogers said he was cautiously optimistic there would be a deal. “I am still anxious the number is good for defense in that deal,” he said.
House Air Land Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ala., said around the same time that he was undecided on a CR. He voiced support for GOP leadership’s drive to win a significant boost for defense.
“I know they’re committed,” Turner said. “I think that’s what’s important. The speaker has committed himself to very strong support for the military.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.