In a worst-case scenario if Speaker Mike Johnson carries out his threat of a yearlong continuing resolution, large-scale furloughs of federal workers, contract cancellations and severe disruptions in a range of government services are likely, according to Senate Appropriations aides.
In one example provided by GOP staff, the Federal Aviation Administration would be forced into a hiring freeze and could have to furlough workers for more than 20 days if across-the-board cuts that would trigger under a full-year continuing resolution take effect.
Johnson, R-La., is taking a hard line in negotiations with Democrats over spending ceilings for final 2024 appropriations bills in part because of the leverage he has with those automatic cuts as a backstop.
Senate Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, is highlighting potential impacts to try to preempt House GOP pressure tactics, as is her counterpart, Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., who on Thursday released her own fact sheet on what a “sequester” would mean.
The pushback from Collins, a fellow Republican defense hawk, may carry more weight with Johnson, a former Armed Services panel member who represents several military installations in his congressional district, including Barksdale Air Force Base.
Under a yearlong CR, defense would at worst be level-funded at the current rate of $859.8 billion. Still, that’s a 3 percent reduction — before inflation — from the fiscal 2024 cap agreed to in the spring debt limit law and envisioned in the defense authorization conference report.
In a Nov. 30 letter to Collins shared with CQ Roll Call, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said his service faces a $13 billion reduction in buying power under a flat-funded CR for the rest of the year. In a worst-case sequester scenario, with the likelihood of an exemption for military personnel funding, the remaining Air Force accounts could take an 8 percent hit, Kendall wrote.
Even with personnel accounts exempt from cuts, the department would struggle to fund its NDAA-mandated 5.2 percent pay raise for servicemembers next year. A yearlong stopgap measure would delay ground- and air-based legs of the nuclear “triad” modernization effort; delay 19 specific initiatives to counter China totaling $4.8 billion; prevent 34 new military construction projects totaling $1.6 billion; and more, Kendall wrote.
In a letter released last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. CQ Brown Jr. laid out his view of impacts on all the services, which Collins highlighted in a floor speech and Murray pointed out in her fact sheet.
The exact level of defense spending in a full-year CR remains unclear; it could be flat-funded or subject to a 1 percent haircut, depending on the White House budget office’s eventual interpretation. That would push cuts to more than 4 percent from the fiscal 2024 spending cap, and higher if military personnel are granted an exemption, since other accounts would have to absorb the blow.
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