Military News

New budget deal should protect Puget Sound defense, social programs

Rep, Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, was one of eight Washington lawmakers who voted for a two-year federal budget that prevented expected cuts to military and social programs in the Puget Sound region.
Rep, Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, was one of eight Washington lawmakers who voted for a two-year federal budget that prevented expected cuts to military and social programs in the Puget Sound region. Bloomberg

It’s too early talk specifics, but the $80 billion boost in federal spending included in the two-year budget that Congress adopted Wednesday likely includes enough money to prevent debilitating cuts to military and social programs in the Puget Sound region.

“We’re still holding our breath, but we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Tacoma Public Schools deputy superintendent Josh Garcia, who had been preparing to trim early education programs that receive federal funding.

He’s not the only one.

The budget allows about $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending in 2016 for military and social programs that lawmakers must decide how to distribute over the next six weeks.

It’s a relief to many because it lifted forced budget cuts known as sequestration that would have gone into effect next year. This potentially would have crimped a variety of programs, from preschool options at Tacoma schools to military training at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“It’s reassuring,” said Cathy Visser, nutrition director at Senior Services for the South Sound. She had worried that a budget impasse would compel the program to reduce its Meals on Wheels offerings to 300 clients in Mason and Thurston counties.

“It means that we have the money we think we have for next year, and we shouldn’t have an unexpected cut,” she said.

The bill passed the House of Representatives by 266 to 167. The Senate is expected to vote on it later this week. Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray has said she’ll support it; Sen. Maria Cantwell is still reviewing it.

Eight of Washington’s 10 representatives in Congress supported the bill, praising it as a welcome change from the often-late and temporary budgets lawmakers have passed over the past five years.

“This budget agreement is not perfect, and much of it needs careful review, but it is a move in the right direction,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue. “This agreement is preferable to governing from budget crisis to budget crisis and will allow for the American people to plan for the future.”

Two Washington Republicans — Dan Newhouse and Jaime Herrera Beutler – voted against the budget. Both characterized the agreement as a sign of “out of control spending” that would swell the federal debt.

“This budget takes several steps in the wrong direction,” said Newhouse of Sunnyside. “Instead of promoting fiscal responsibility and careful planning, this budget is a result of waiting until the last-minute threat of a debt default.”

Easing sequestration should protect several big-ticket military programs in the region that could have faced severe cuts next year, said Kristine Reeves, the state’s military affairs director.

The additional money for defense programs — $25 billion in 2016 and another $15 billion in 2017 – should ensure that Boeing’s $51 billion development of a new Air Force tanker continues uninterrupted.

It also means the Navy should be able to continue adding aircraft to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. And it should take pressure off the Army to further slash its ranks of active-duty soldiers.

“We won’t get more soldiers cut from JBLM,” Reeves said.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told Stars and Stripes that the deal could give the military stability in planning that it has lacked recently.

“I would welcome anything that is steady, that is predictable and that we can plan against,” he told the newspaper.

Lawmakers adopted sequestration in the Budget Control Act of 2011 to slash $1.2 trillion in spending over 10 years. The cuts to social and defense programs were supposed to be so unattractive that they’d compel Congress to find a different budget compromise. That didn’t happen, although Congress in 2013 eased their impact in an agreement brokered by Murray and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

This week’s budget agreement does not fully remove sequestration, which means the cuts could return after 2017.

“Although the budget the House passed this afternoon is not perfect, supporting it was necessary in order for us to meet our obligations and avert an unnecessary crisis that would have negatively impacted the American people and our economy,” said Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646