WASHINGTON — With the possibility of another government shutdown coming Friday, the Pentagon is bracing for a potential delay to its planned fiscal 2020 rollout and the associated long-term fallout.
Compared to the government agencies that may once again go dark, the impact on the Department of Defense, which is fully funded thanks to a previous budget agreement, seem small. But any delay in rolling out the FY20 budget increases the chances of negotiations blowing past the end of the fiscal year and creating a situation where the DoD must operate under a continuing resolution.
Asked if he was concerned another shutdown could delay the budget, Army Secretary Mark Esper acknowledged that could be an issue.
“I think everybody who has been around Capitol Hill and Congress for a long time, as I’ve been, realizes there is a timing to this that is built into the system, if you will," Esper told reporters Feb. 8. "So you have to, of course, be a little bit concerned as things get dragged on, what that means for the next year, the fiscal year, passing it on time.”
During an earlier appearance alongside the secretaries of the Air Force and Navy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Esper and his colleagues identified timely and stable budgets as the most important thing the Congress can provide to help the military, a theme to which he returned when talking to the press.
“I can’t foot stomp that enough about how important it was to have a timely budget. We really thank Congress not just for the funding we got last year but for the timeliness,” he said. “Look, I talk to members from both sides of the Hill and both parties, and they all understand it and they share their view. They want to help as well, make sure we have a timely budget that’s sufficient.”
However, Esper insisted that any delay will not impact his service’s budget layout, saying: “The Army’s priorities are the Army’s priorities. So that won’t change that.”
Two sticking points have emerged: Democratic negotiators are reportedly saying they will not agree to more than $2 billion for border barriers — less than half the $5.7 billion Trump is seeking — and they want to cap the number of beds at immigration centers in a bid to force the Trump administration to prioritize the detention of violent criminals.
“I think the talks are stalled right now. I’m hoping we can get off the dime later today or in the morning because time is ticking away,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a key Republican negotiator, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Of the Friday deadline, Shelby said, “I’m not confident were going to get there. I’m hoping we will get there,” warning, “We’ve got to start movement.”
Appearing beside Shelby, a key Democratic negotiator, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he is uncertain there will be a deal, but insisted lawmakers on his side were deal-makers and not “bomb throwers."
“Is it a done deal? No, it isn’t, and we could end up in a train wreck,” Tester said. “It’s happened before. But I don’t think anybody has an appetite for government shutdown, and I think everybody wants to make sure borders are secured.”
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told Fox that Trump may take what Democrats offer and supplement it by reprogramming other funds and potentially declaring a national emergency to access still other funds.
“He would prefer legislation because it’s the right way to go and is the proper way to spend money in this country,” Mulvaney said. “But if that doesn’t happen, the president proceeds. His No. 1 priority is national security. He will then look at the National Emergencies Act as a way to do his job.”
Trump, who has largely stayed out of the latest talks, added pressure Sunday with a tweet questioning whether Democrats are negotiating in good faith.
“I don’t think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal,” the tweet reads. “They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!”