WASHINGTON — President Obama signed a temporary spending bill that keeps the government open and funded through April 28 and includes the Pentagon's highest procurement priorities.
Senators voted 63-36 to pass the 70-page continuing resolution that was written by Republican leaders and released by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday night. Save for specifically named anomalies, a continuing resolution denies the Defense Department authority to start new programs, increase production rates, or initiate multiyear procurement.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, of Arizona, was one of 13 Republicans who voted against. In a Senate floor speech ahead of the vote, he ripped the bill as shortchanging defense and and skipping a budget for three quarters of the fiscal year.
"This is absolutely disgraceful," McCain said. "We're going to kick the can down the road because we failed to fund our troops. The fiscal irresponsibility [of] another continuing resolution, which will force the Department of Defense to operate for seven months of the fiscal year without a real budget. Tell me one company or corporation in the world, small or large, that has their budget frozen for seven months of the year and you expect to operate with any kind of efficiency. You can't."
The bill's passage ended a day of drama as Democrats, led by Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, voiced opposition to the CR, arguing it didn't do enough to fix problems with coal miners' pension and health care plans. By the evening, incoming Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats would not shut down the government, which would, "hurt millions of Americans, as well."
The measure already passed the House 326-96 on Thursday, and House lawmakers left town, leaving limited options for the Senate. If the CR had not passed, government funding would have run out at midnight Friday.
Congress ultimately ended this year by abandoning regular order, as GOP leaders expect to give the new administration a chance to put its stamp on federal spending. Congress only passed one of 12 appropriations bill this year, for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
Vice-President-elect Mike Pence last week promised to offer supplemental spending for defense in the first 100 days of the fiscal year. Republican appropriators have also suggested they will attempt to pass their appropriations bill for defense in the new Congress, under the new Republican president.
"We're looking at all the options," said incoming House Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. "I'll be happy to take it any way, separately or as part of a package."
"We have, I think, 265,000 men and women around the world, and people might not know all the things the men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria are doing, and they need to be supported," Frelinghuysen said Thursday after the House passed the CR. "It's not inexpensive. Wrapped into what we did today is some firepower, and the sooner we get some more money for defense, we'll take a look at what the package might be."
Though the continuing resolution freezes most spending at the previous year's level, it includes several significant anomalies for defense. Of those, there are $773 million more for the Ohio Replacement submarine advance procurement; authorization for AH–64E Apache and UH–60M Black Hawk helicopter multiyear procurements; Air Force KC–46A tanker funding, to avoid contract penalties; $650 million more for the European Reassurance Initiative, part of a $8 billion plus-up for Overseas Contingency Operations.
The CR also streamlines the confirmation process for President-elect Donald Trump's pick for defense secretary, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis. Because Mattis retired in 2013, he needs Congress to waive a seven-year cooling-off period.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter last month complained in a letter to congressional leaders that the lengthy CR, through the presidential transition, was "unprecedented and unacceptable" and urged Congress to reject it.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.