DOD prepares for possible shutdown as Congress wrestles with budget

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Pentagon officials hope Congress will soon strike a deal to fund the government when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)
From Stripes.com
Pentagon officials hope Congress will soon strike a deal to fund the government when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

DOD prepares for possible shutdown as Congress wrestles with budget

by: Travis J. Tritten | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 24, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department was preparing this week for a possible shutdown with just days left for Congress to solve an entrenched federal budget impasse.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday that hope remains that lawmakers will strike a deal to fund the government when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and insisted the situation was not yet dire enough to warn defense employees of the potential fallout.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans in the Senate were set to float a short-term budget Thursday that could fund the government until December, but its future remained uncertain as the GOP battles Democrats over Planned Parenthood.

The government will be left in the lurch without a new budget at the end of the month and some services may be suspended. The last shutdown in 2013 was caused by congressional fights over defunding Obamacare and temporarily sent home more than 800,000 federal workers without pay — half of those DOD civilians.

“We’re not at that stage right now that we need to be alarming or concerning employees with it,” Cook said. “We still believe that there’s time to reach a resolution, but we have to do prudent planning, and the comptroller has been doing that.”

He said a shutdown would have a significant impact on the Pentagon and operations. But Cook and the DOD declined to provide details this week, despite requests from Stars and Stripes.

“We are taking some of the prudent steps behind the scenes, I’m not going to detail all of them, just to be prepared in case something like that does happen,” Cook said.

A Pentagon spokesman also said the department is planning for a variety of scenarios including a short-term budget called a continuing resolution, a budget deal or a shutdown.

With only days left, a continuing budget resolution, or CR, is the most likely solution for the deeply divided Congress.

The Senate will consider a resolution Thursday that was crafted by the Republican majority. It would keep the DOD and federal government funded through Dec. 11, as well as provide nearly $75 billion for the military’s overseas emergency war fund.

The resolution would buy Congress 2½ months to hammer out the annual appropriations bills, according to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

But the legislation has little chance of passing because it includes a measure to defund Planned Parenthood, a nationwide nonprofit that provides reproductive health care and receives federal support. Republicans have been outraged at Planned Parenthood since activists with hidden cameras recorded its officials talking graphically this summer about harvesting fetus’ organs after providing abortions.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is running for president, has led the push among conservatives to defund the group and said he will not support any budget bill that includes money for it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “should not schedule or facilitate the consideration of any legislation that gives federal money to Planned Parenthood,” Cruz tweeted on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Democrats have called the measure a “poison pill” and vowed to oppose it.

“Let’s stop wasting time with these political stunts,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., vice chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. “We need a new budget deal that invests in America to protect our national security, rebuild our physical infrastructure, create jobs today and jobs tomorrow and meet compelling human needs.”

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten