Congress Unlikely to Pass 2021 Budget on Time

By Jon Harper

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President Donald Trump released his 2021 budget request in February, nearly eight months before the start of the next fiscal year, and lawmakers have already agreed on a defense topline of $740.5 billion. Nevertheless, it’s still unlikely that Congress will pass appropriations before Oct. 1, experts say.

They expect fiscal year 2021 to begin with a continuing resolution, which freezes funding at previous fiscal year levels and prevents new-start programs.

“Hypothetically, based on the fact that we have a budget deal … there should be no CR,” said Seamus Daniels, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But as we saw last year [with] the border wall funding and other debates … they delayed the issue.”

Fiscal year 2020 began with two continuing resolutions lasting a total of 81 days, he noted during a press briefing. For 2021, the administration requested $2 billion for additional border wall construction.

Todd Harrison, another CSIS budget guru, said recent history doesn’t yield optimism.

“There’s no good reason this year” for lawmakers to fail to pass a budget on time, he said. “They already have a budget deal. They know where the top line is. They ought to be able to work through it. [But] I think odds are they probably push this until the lame duck session after the election and try to finish it up then.”

Mark Cancian, senior adviser for the international security program at CSIS, projected about a 70 percent chance of that happening.

However, the outcome of the November elections could play a role in whether the 2021 budget is passed before the next presidential inauguration in January, especially if progressive candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., were to emerge victorious. Sanders, who refers to himself as a democratic socialist, has called for large cuts in military spending and more investment in social programs.

“Maybe the Congress would be so scared they would want to get the budget put together and put to bed before Sanders could get his hands on it,” Cancian said. However, some Democrats might want to hold off.

“It depends on whether [House Speaker Rep.] Nancy Pelosi and company would be willing to go along,” he said. “Certainly, the Democratic left would want to then push it past the inauguration to make these radical changes. But [House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep.] Adam Smith might just argue to put this thing to bed. And I can’t tell you how that would play out.” 

Topics: Budget

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