WASHINGTON — Congress' budget morass will be solved with a "do-nothing" full-year continuing resolution to fund the government, rather than a Murray-Ryan type deal or a grand bipartisan bargain to remove sequestration, according to a Washington think tank poll.
The online poll showed more than 500 respondents predicting the full-year CR, versus 200-plus predicting a "Murray-Ryan 2.0" and roughly 150 predicting a grand bargain. Behind predictions of a Republican-crafted budget, the president's budget came in last by a wide margin.
Experts with the Center for Strategic and International Studies split over whether the Democrats and Republicans in Congress would reach a Murray-Ryan 2.0-style compromise or pass one or more funding measures to fund the government at 2015 levels. The 2013 deal named for Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan temporarily lifted spending caps for two years.
"Although I regret the cynicism of this vote, I think Washington has earned it," said Kathleen Hicks, director of the CSIS International Security Program. "Presidential election politics will prevent the White House and congressional Republicans and Democrats from achieving a grand bargain or even a Ryan-Murray 2.0. The defense budget [and the defense strategy] will continue to be held in limbo, with temporary CRs replaced by a yearlong CR at the last possible moment: the final day of session prior to the Easter break."
Hicks and others predicted the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account, originally meant for emergency wartime expenses, will serve as a spending relief valve. Republicans have proffered a budget that raises the defense side through the use of the OCO emergency wartime account, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations budget (OCO), while not raising the non-defense side.
Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, writes that House defense hawks are floating three plans that would raise defense and non-defense discretionary caps for the next two years.
Under a yearlong continuing resolution, the Pentagon would wind up with $35 billion less than it requested. At 2015 levels, the Defense Department would have a base budget of $496 billion, $3 billion shy of the $499 billion sequestration budget cap but $38 billion less than the president's $534 billion budget request for 2016.
With the spending freeze, policy restrictions bar the Pentagon from buying new items save for a list of appropriations "anomalies." That list, which covers various weapons, vehicles, advanced sensors and construction, was sent by the Pentagon to Capitol Hill in early August.
Speaking on Aug. 24, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James warned that about 50 new start programs could be threatened by a CR.
Robert Hale, the former Defense Department comptroller, speaking at the Brookings Institution on Sept. 3, warned against a full-year CR.
"You can do it for a couple of months, it's not a big deal, but doing that for a year would be a nightmare for the Department of Defense," he said.