Uncertainty grows over future defense budgets
Since Republicans took over the House in January, finding compromise in a divided Congress has been difficult. In budget and spending matters, it has been almost impossible.
Congressional infighting threatened a government shutdown multiple times this year, as lawmakers sparred over cutting the federal deficit and reining in wasteful spending. For the military, that has meant a near-constant barrage of threats to paychecks and programs — and next year could be even worse.
In August, lawmakers agreed to raise the national debt ceiling only if the White House paired that move with a bipartisan panel charged with cutting $1.2 trillion in spending. When that group failed to find answers, it triggered $600 billion more in defense cuts over the next decade.
Pentagon leaders had agreed to about $450 billion in spending curbs in the next 10 years, and they have predicted the $600 billion in additional trims will cripple the military. Lawmakers from both parties have vowed to find alternatives before the extra cuts go into effect in late 2012 but remain far apart on what they should be.
Defense officials are looking to cut military end strength and scale back major weapons purchases as part of the new federal fiscal restraint. The White House has also suggested examining military pay and retirement benefits, but veterans groups have harshly criticized those ideas.
Meanwhile, without a long-term budget plan, federal agencies were forced to work on short-term spending bills throughout the year.
Congress threatened another government shutdown earlier this month over the budget extensions, prompting another round of furlough warnings and potential paycheck delays.
The White House will unveil its fiscal 2013 federal spending proposals in February. After that, the budget fight is likely to intensify with the presidential election looming in November.