Guest column: Bad budgeting habits hurt San Diego defense ecosystem
Over the last four months, Congress passed four short-term spending bills to keep the government funded, also known as continuing resolutions or CRs. That’s one stopgap measure for each month of the 2018 fiscal year.
Most lawmakers in D.C. would struggle to remember the last time Congress went through the full funding process for each federal agency. In the last four decades, the federal government has missed the deadline for funding bills 18 times, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.
When I meet with military leaders in San Diego, they always tell me funding the government through continuing resolutions hurts our military’s readiness.Congress has a bad habit of falling back on continuing resolutions instead of doing its job and passing a budget. Whether you want to blame partisanship or dysfunction, CRs all have one thing in common: they fail to provide for our military and defense contractors who need certainty to protect our country.
A continuing resolution does just what it sounds like — it temporarily extends the funding levels last approved by Congress. For our military, it means they are locked-in to last year’s funding levels and they can’t start new projects, hire personnel or keep their training on schedule.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said it best this September in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee: “Long term CRs impact the readiness of our force and their equipment at a time when security threats are extraordinarily high. The longer the CR, the greater the consequences for our force.”
In San Diego, the military drives one-fifth of our economy and directly employs 140,000 people. It also represents an industry that’s leading in unmanned aerial vehicles, cybersecurity and energy innovation.
Last year, about $25 billion in defense spending flowed into San Diego County. This money drives new and innovative defense construction and technology, which creates jobs in the process. In fact, $9.4 billion of that economic activity comes from defense contracts with private firms.
San Diego has more than 5,600 contractors connected to our region’s defense industry, but they can’t complete projects easily under short-term funding. When they’re forced to plan for multiple budget scenarios, it wastes time and money.
That’s a loss for San Diego and our defense industry.
At the end of last month, I helped pass a spending bill that would provide $664 billion for the Department of Defense, but at the time, those new funding levels would not have gone into effect unless we moved past serial continuing resolutions and got a real, long-term budget done. The bill was also likely to fail in the Senate, which would bring us back to the drawing board once again.
Thankfully, last week, the Senate reached a bipartisan budget deal that would secure $400 billion over the next two years, including an $80 billion increase in military spending this fiscal year, and an additional $85 billion next year.
Congress showed we can work together, but we only came to an agreement with another deadline looming over us. We are well into the fiscal year, and we should have spent 2017 having these conversations.
San Diegans rightfully expect their leaders to work together to find solutions. It’s time for Congress to stop its bad habit of short-term funding bills. Our military leaders and thousands of San Diego jobs depend on it.
Rep. Scott Peters represents the 52nd Congressional District, which includes Rancho Bernardo and Poway.