Congress takes its first look at next year's DOD budget, and early indications are good

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 17 March 2015. We're starting to get some early indications from Congress on prospects for defense spending next year. as you might expect, it's a mixed bag, with good news and bad news.

After big defense cuts, what lies ahead?
After big defense cuts, what lies ahead?
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 17 March 2015. We're starting to get some early indications from Congress on prospects for defense spending next year. as you might expect, it's a mixed bag, with good news and bad news.

Bear in mind these are VERY early indications. The official start of spring isn't for another four days, and it's unlikely that Congress will approve any concrete DOD budget spending bills until next fall at the earliest. To be clear, I'm trying to control expectations as much as possible, because the final results six months from now could be a lot different from how they look today.

Having said that, the House Budget Committee is proposing a base budget of $523 billion for fiscal 2016. That plan would cut $11.3 billion from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) request of $534.3 billion for fiscal 2016.

The good news, however, is this would represent a 5.4 percent increase over this year's congressional approved Pentagon spending levels of $496.1 billion. Federal fiscal year 2016 runs from 1 Oct. 2015 to 30 Sept. 2016.

Here's some more good news: at this very early stage in the congressional budgeting process, things seem to be proceeding as they should. In simplified terms, the normal process calls for s congressionally approved budget (so far, so good), then approval of authorization bills, and finally approval of appropriations bills, which actually clear the way for cutting checks.

Related: Pentagon's proposed 2016 budget would increase military spending by $38.2 billion next year

The bad news? Well, the House budget committee doesn't propose giving the Pentagon everything that top leaders want. Still, it would be a nice increase from the fiscal 2015 budget. Furthermore an orderly congressional budget procedure likely would clear the way for abolishing the Draconian across-the-board cuts that sequestration would mandate.

Getting rid of sequestration would go a long way to alleviating the crippling uncertainty that has plagued the defense industry over the past few years. Clear indications from Congress -- with spending cuts or not -- will give the defense industry the information it needs to make long-term financial plans with confidence.

Now, let me try to illustrate just HOW early it is in this process. This is just the House budget committee. The Senate hasn't weighed in yet, and for the past several years it has been the Senate where budget bills go to die.

There was a change in Senate leadership in January, however, so we can keep our fingers crossed that Senators also will craft a budget bill that the two houses of Congress can reconcile. We have hope, but no guarantees. There's months of political posturing and back-hall bargaining between now and the beginning of fiscal year 2016 next October. Many things can, and likely will, change.

This simply is one of the first signs on a very long road. Let's be glad the first signs are good.

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