Military to Curtail Recruiting and Duty Station Moves if Congress Resorts to a Yearlong Stopgap Budget, Joint Chiefs Chairman Warns

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Lloyd J. Austin and Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. meet with Mike Johnson
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. meet with the Speaker of the House Mike Johnson at the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. Nov. 1, 2023. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cesar J. Navarro)

Military personnel funding would have a $5.8 billion shortfall and no new military construction projects would be able to start if Congress does not pass a regular full-year Pentagon spending bill for this fiscal year, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned in a recent letter to Congress.

"DoD has never operated under a year-long CR; it would be historically costly to the Joint Force," Gen. Charles "C.Q." Brown wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

Since the start of the fiscal year at the beginning of October, the Defense Department, along with the rest of the federal government, has been operating under a stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution, or CR, because lawmakers have been unable to agree to regular full-year appropriations bills.

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Brown's letter warns Congress against relying on the temporary measures through next October, rather than passing traditional budget legislation with new funding levels.

CRs essentially put the government on autopilot by extending the previous year's funding level while preventing new programs from starting. They have been standard for Congress to pass for the first few months of the fiscal year in recent decades, but a yearlong CR would be unprecedented.

Under the current stopgap measure, most Pentagon funding expires Feb. 2. Military construction funding has an earlier deadline of Jan. 19.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., reportedly told senators during a closed-door meeting Wednesday that if a full-year spending agreement is not reached by Feb. 2, he would move forward on a yearlong CR, according to Bloomberg.

But also Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus, a bloc of far-right Republicans that has successfully stymied congressional work several times this year, softened its demand for steep domestic spending cuts. The shift raises the prospects of lawmakers being able to reach a spending agreement.

Military personnel funding is at particular risk during a yearlong CR because, by law, service members get a pay raise on Jan. 1 regardless of whether the Pentagon gets increased funding to cover the raise. That forces the department to take money for the pay bump from other personnel accounts.

The last time the specter of a full-year CR was raised, military officials warned of devastating consequences for service members, including disrupting permanent change of station moves and bonuses.

Brown's recent letter, released by Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Susan Collins, R-Maine, echoes those concerns.

"A yearlong CR would create a $5.8 billion shortfall in military personnel funding and exacerbate recruiting and retention challenges," Brown wrote. "DoD would be forced to delay service member moves and slow recruiting to offset the costs of the 5.2% pay raise for the military."

The hit to recruiting efforts would come at a time when most of the military has already been unable to make its recruiting goals.

Brown also singled out a yearlong CR's effect on military construction, which has received heightened attention in recent months after a watchdog report detailed unlivable barracks conditions.

"Military construction projects are, by definition, new starts, so a yearlong CR could cause a yearlong delay in construction projects intended to modernize our installations and improve quality of life," he wrote.

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, Secretary Denis McDonough declined Wednesday to discuss the details of what a yearlong CR would mean for his agency because the prospect of extended stopgap spending is "so speculative." The VA's funding deadline in the current CR is Jan. 19.

"We're able to do what we do much more effectively when we have a full-year appropriation," McDonough said at a news conference. "I really hope that Congress takes advantage of this time between now and middle of January to get us an appropriation for the rest of the year."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on X @reporterkheel.

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