The Pentagon obtained a historic, 10 percent jump in its topline funding in fiscal 2018 and a further increase this year following a two-year budget deal lawmakers reached in February, but a possible change in control of the House and the return of the statutory spending caps could upset Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ plans to continue rebuilding readiness and fulfill new modernization priorities. If nothing else, a congressional deal over the FY 2020 budget almost certainly won’t be realized nearly as quickly as this year’s was, with the president signing a defense spending bill prior to the start of the fiscal year for the first time in a decade.
“I think it’s going to be a long, hard, drawn-out fight over the next year,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Washington Examiner. Most analysts expect the two parties to negotiate another two-year budget deal to loosen the spending caps, which extend through FY 2021. For now, the outcome of that negotiation is unknown. “The FY20 budget request will come out in February, or it’s supposed to. We’ll see if it comes out on time, and I don’t think we’re going to have a resolution to that for probably, you know, a year and a half from now,” Harrison said. “I’d be looking at the spring of 2020 as when we might actually get close to a budget deal.”
A Democrat takeover of the House possibly could limit growth in DOD spending but the most likely outcome, regardless of the results of the midterms, still appears to be a deal which provides increases for both domestic and defense spending. Also looming is the growing national debt, which presents another threat to the 3 to 5 percent annual defense budget growth Mattis believes is necessary for the nation to keep up with its major adversaries.
“We don’t quite know when the crunch will come with respect to the deficit and the debt, but I’m quite sure it will come,” Hal Brands, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said in testimony to Congress. “And so, if we don’t get a handle on the problem, at some point we are going to find we are constrained in paying for national security.”