House Leaders Mull Pentagon Spending Measure Before Policy Bill

House Democratic leaders are weighing an unusual schedule for defense legislation this year: the fiscal year 2020 Pentagon spending bill likely would be written before the annual defense authorization bill, according to congressional aides who asked for anonymity to discuss the tentative plans.

Traditionally, the House Armed Services Committee first writes the defense authorization bill, which sets funding levels as well as policy for the next fiscal year, and lawmakers in the past have usually approved the measure by Memorial Day.

This year, the marathon mark up of the bill likely will happen mid-June,possibly the week of June 17, while the Pentagon spending measure would be written well before that. Member requests for funding in the spending bill are due April 1.

Photo – John Moore/Getty Images
Lawmakers this year could take up a bill funding the Pentagon, including training exercises like the one pictured here, before writing the annual bill authorizing defense spending and setting policy.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) will have to coordinate on funding levels for defense programs toensure the proposed spending levels and programs funded won’t conflict with the yet-to-be-written authorization legislation.

Even so, not having a defense authorization bill in June could complicate larger budget discussions. A mid-June defense authorization bill could be bad news for appropriators, who already plan to draft all 12 of their bills without any formal agreement on top-line spending figures. Lawmakers and the Trump administration don’t appear close to an agreement to raise spending caps under the Budget Control Act (Public Law 112-25).

Common Budget Unlikely

The House and Senate,under control by different parties, are also unlikely to adopt the same budget resolution setting top-line spending levels. House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) has even said he may not draft a resolution.

Despite the lack of a top-line spending agreement, House Democrats plan to vote on all 12 appropriations bills by the end of June, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. He said he’ll dedicate that month’s floor votes entirely to appropriations bills if necessary. It’s possible, one aide said, that the defense authorization bill may get a floor vote before the defense bill, though, as plans are in flux.

Without a defense authorization measure, a budget cap deal, or a budget resolution, appropriators will have to decide on their own top-line spending levels on an informal basis. House and Senate lawmakers will likely use different sets of numbers, making it more difficult to reconcile the differences between their bills at the end of the fiscal year,Sept. 30.

“I think the biggest issue is the caps,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) a senior appropriator and a member of the Budget Committee. “If we don’t do that — and they’re talking about not doing anything until September — then we’re flying blind. That’s crazy.”

Shutdown a Possibility

Both chambers appear likely to draft bills that would increase defense spending, but it’s unclear how significant the boost would be. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he supports a defense spending increase. House Democrats are divided on the issue, but Yarmuth said most of the caucus also supports an increase, although they likely won’t agree to Trump’s requested $750 billion.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator who is on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he expects “a very tough year” because ofhow long it may take to reach a top-line spending level agreement. The lack of a budget cap deal in particular could lead to a continuing resolution at the end of the fiscal year, he said.

“I think each side thinks they can extract some negotiation advantage out of this,” Cole said. “That’s the sort of thing that sets you up for a CR or, God forbid, another shutdown.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at; Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at; Jonathan Nicholson at