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Pentagon budget deal on life support as partisan politics rage | Military

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​This is an early prediction, but you don’t have to be a Las Vegas oddsmaker to foresee that the military’s main budget bill could end in a train wreck before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

What’s sad is that budget measure appeared to be the lone beacon of bipartisan harmony in a Congress that looks more like the World Wrestling Federation these days than a place where learned leaders gather to set our national policy.

So, what will probably kill the National Defense Authorization Act? U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs called it Monday: partisan politics.

A stalwart Republican, Lamborn, of course, blames Democrats.

“It’s hard for them to not look at things in terms of what help Trump and what hurts Trump,” Lamborn said in a phone interview.

But the budget impasse is about more than the victimization of President Donald Trump.

Like any playground fight in elementary school, there are two sides to the story.

It seems that Trump threw the punch that really launched the budget process off the rails, at least according to Democrats.

Trump last week announced his intention to raid $3.6 billion in military construction cash. That amount includes $8 million that was planned to build a space operations facility at Peterson Air Force Base.

It’s not so much Trump raiding the Pentagon’s piggy bank that has Democrats so upset. It’s the fact that Trump would use the money to fulfill a campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a quest that Congress has repeatedly shot down.

U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., issued a news release that essentially called Trump‘s move a declaration of war on Congress. That could be seen as standard Democratic posturing if Garamendi weren’t chairman of a powerful Armed Services subcommittee in the House.

“This is a fundamental issue,” Garamendi said in an email. “One that will decide whether we have a Congress that can operate in any meaningful way in the future, and one that will have serious implications on our national security. The Secretary of Defense and the White House can expect an all-out brawl from the Readiness Subcommittee.”

Lamborn, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee that Garamendi leads, was more optimistic Monday.

“Things are getting worked out,” Lamborn said. “We’re getting pretty far down the road.”

Despite Lamborn’s sunny picture, the authorization act, which tells the military how to spend its money, is in critical condition.

A conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate on the measure hasn’t met. And reaching a compromise is the work of weeks, not days.

A lengthy debate on this policy measure is nearly guaranteed by the weighty issues carried in the policy bill, including whether to create a separate Space Force for satellite troops.

So with two weeks left before the Pentagon budget runs dry for the fiscal year, the military’s best hope is something the generals hate: a continuing resolution.

Used heavily during the Obama years, the resolutions are a way for Congress to kick partisan debates down the road while temporarily funding the military.

Military leaders hate the temporary budget measures for a few reasons. The biggest of them is that you can’t buy more aircraft carriers, fighter jets and missiles when the Pentagon is living paycheck to paycheck.

But a continuing resolution should be a deal the Pentagon is eager to grab.

With the 2020 election looming, a long budget standoff could serve partisan politics well. Shutdowns make for great drama.

The Democrats could easily blame Trump for the impasse that shuts down the Pentagon, and the GOP could pin it on the Democrats with equal flair. With the White House on the line, it could be an issue that gets Americans to pay attention to the 2020 contest while helping the political parties rile up their faithful.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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