NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — If Congress decides to push a long-term continuing resolution budget measure, it will simply be settling for "sequestration-level funding under another name," warned Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
Such a move would force "irresponsible" choices on the Pentagon, at a time when the Pentagon is facing low-end threats like ISIL and high-end threats from Russia and China.
Speaking at the annual Air Force Association conference outside of Washington Wednesday, Carter spoke strongly about the budget situation facing the Pentagon as Congress nears the end of the fiscal year without a clear direction on funding.
"Even as we need to innovate, to continue to attract the best people, to develop the next generation of capabilities and to meet a current generation of threats, yet again we face the real risk that political gridlock will hold us back," Carter said. "With only 14 days remaining in this fiscal year, Congress has yet to pass appropriations bills that will appropriately fund the government for the coming year."
There is a growing consensus in Washington that Congress may look to use a long-term continuing resolution (CR) funding measure in lieu of a budget deal. Under a CR, the government operates at the previous fiscal year funding levels.
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 $3844 billion less than the president's $534 billion budget request for 2016.
Carter warned that a CR would be just as damaging as returning to sequestration-level funding.
"The alternative to a budget deal, a long-term continuing resolution, is merely sequestration-level funding under another name," the secretary said. "And the longer a continuing resolution is, the worse it becomes, eventually resulting in a $38 billion deficit in resources for our military if Congress chooses to pursue this path for a full year."
In recent years, "Russia and China have advanced their capabilities. New imperatives, such as ensuring a lasting defeat of ISIL, have emerged," he said. "What we have under sequestration or a long-term continuing resolution is a straitjacket. We would be forced to make irresponsible reductions when our choices should be considered carefully and strategically."
In an exclusive interview with Defense News, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh warned that a continuing resolution would cause serious budget churn and impact long-term planning for the service.