Defense officials warn of crisis unless Congress approves 2011 funding bill

President Barack Obama's $3.5 trillion-plus budget plan will likely be ignored by resurgent Republicans intent on cutting tens of billions of dollars from the president's old budget. (Feb. 13)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 12, 2011; 9:48 PM

While the Obama administration is set to release its 2012 budget request Monday, Congress still has not approved a final 2011 budget for the military. Now the Pentagon is warning that it faces a crisis situation.

For weeks, Defense Department officials have said that unless lawmakers pass the Obama administration's 2011 budget request, they will be unable to start new weapons programs and may have to limit training, maintenance and even personnel pay and other activities. Officials have also said that they will be forced to continue programs the Obama administration had sought to terminate, because the funding has not been formally cut off.

Some lawmakers have argued that, with the government facing record deficits and under growing pressure to find cuts, the Pentagon will simply have to tighten its belt. Already, the Defense Department has been forced to trim $78 billion over the next five years from its long-term spending plan.

The military is currently being funded through the most recent in a series of stopgap measures, known as continuing resolutions, that allow spending based on previously approved levels.

But the continuing resolution provided $23 billion below what the Obama administration had requested for 2011. Defense agencies and the military services have complicated the picture by spending close to the requested 2011 level, because they had expected Congress to approve their funding by Oct. 1, when fiscal 2011 began.

The continuing resolution is up for another vote by March 4.

Last week, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) urged that the Senate hold an immediate vote on the fiscal 2011 Defense Appropriations Bill, which has been approved by the House, rather than relying on another year-long continuing resolution at reduced funding levels.

As an alternative, Collins suggested in an interview that the fiscal 2011 Defense Appropriations Bill be attached to any new continuing resolution, as had been done in past years. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made the same suggestion last month.

On Friday, the House took a step in that direction when Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, proposed a continuing resolution that included the 2011 Defense Appropriations Bill.

Although the bill is $14 billion below the Obama administration's request, if approved by Congress it would respond to almost all the concerns voiced by Gates and other Pentagon leaders. It would also eliminate about 1,400 earmarks totaling $4.2 billion that were attached to the fiscal 2010 defense funding bill.

Overall, Rogers said, it "strikes a balance between the need for valid reductions and the requirements of our military."

Still, there is no guarantee that the Senate will accept the new House version of the continuing resolution.

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