WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators with authority over military readiness are urging Senate appropriators to grant flexibility in spending its large, but late, budget boost for 2018.

The seven senators on the Senate Armed Services’ readiness subpanel have asked the leaders of the Senate Appropriations subpanel to consider changes, arguing Congress’s tardy budgeting has unfairly penalized the Pentagon in a March 5 letter.

The proposal is roughly in line with a proposal from the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, and others.

“Recent budget caps and numerous continuing resolutions have placed a considerable strain on the Department of Defense,” the senators wrote in a letter. “The recent National Security and Defense Strategies, the FY19 President’s Budget and Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 are significant steps in the right direction to restore readiness, eliminate maintenance backlogs, and modernize equipment for the Department of Defense.”

The senators propose waiving the one-year limitation for operation and maintenance accounts and the so-called “80/20 Rule.” Under the latter, no more than 20 percent of one-year appropriations may be obligated during the last two months of the fiscal year.

“Either of these two exceptions will ensure that service secretaries will have the flexibility to obligate funds in an efficient manner to restore readiness and execute the National Security and Defense Strategy.”

The letter, to the lead Senate appropriators for defense — Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. was led by Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Ranking Member Tim Kaine, D-Va., as well as members Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; David Perdue, R-Ga.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Maize Hirono, D-Hawaii.

Because Congress has yet to reach a final budget agreement for FY18, which began Oct. 1, 2017, the military has been operating at 2017 spending levels. Appropriators are expected to propose an omnibus spending bill before the latest funding patch expires March 23.

Without congressional action, the military would have five months or less to spend the big bump afforded by the deal on budget top lines, which gives the Department of Defense nearly $700 billion for FY18 and $716 billion for FY19.

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.

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