Continuing Resolution vs. Sequestration: Pick Your Poison, Congress

The United States Senate defines a continuing resolution (CR) as “legislation in the form of a joint resolution enacted by Congress, when the new fiscal year is about to begin or has begun, to provide budget authority for Federal agencies and programs to continue in operation until the regular appropriations acts are enacted.”

In layman’s terms, a continuation of the current budget.

For the Defense Department, a CR creates a variety of problems, specifically in future years planning. Because a CR is not a full fiscal-year budget, it places stress on the defense financial workforce, would force cutbacks in planned investments and ultimately creates inefficiencies.

A CR, which expires March 27th, is starting to become somewhat the norm around Washington but Congress is more fixated on the impact of sequestration – across the board budget cuts that will take effect on March 1st should Congress fail to act.

For the Pentagon, sequester triggers an additional $500 billion in across-the-board spending cuts over the next decade on top of a $487 billion in cuts already programmed. These cuts could possibly force the Pentagon to reconsider defense strategy and cut into important readiness accounts.

As daunting as sequestration is, there many who believe the impact of operating under a CR is even more detrimental.

“If Congress fails to pass the appropriations bill for FY 13 and simply extends the CR through the year, our overall operating accounts would decrease by about five percent below the proposed budget presented by the president for our 2013 budget,” Panetta said on Jan. 10 during a Pentagon press conference. “An important part of our new defense strategy is to try to increase the operating accounts in order to maintain readiness, but the CR — if it’s just simply extended — would really prevent us from doing that.”

Last month, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter testified before both the Senate and House Armed Services committees. For the Guard, Gen. Frank Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau stated that should sequester go into effect, “our ability to respond to domestic and other contingencies would decline…we are planning to defer sustainment and maintenance requirements for our aircraft, vehicles and facilities.”

A CR would not take into account the anticipated growth in defense spending that Pentagon leaders had budgeted for the new defense strategy as well as procurement of new weapons systems. It leaves the Pentagon empty handed and unable to fulfill and pay for contracts that have already been signed as well as block the creation of new programs and contracts.

As harmful as a CR or sequestration is on their own, both of which much be addressed this month, there is no doubt that the combination of the two would have a serious impact.

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