Defense Department officials from Secretary Jim Mattis on down keep telling Congress how bad Continuing Resolutions (CRs) are for the troops, but the House and Senate just keep passing them.
The much overused cliché for this perennial process that substitutes for passing a budget -- overused by Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as the White House Office of Management and Budget -- is "kicking the can down the road."
Mattis made the case for the DoD yet again Thursday when he went to the Congressional Republican retreat at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, just before President Donald Trump gave a pep talk summing up his State of the Union Address.
Mattis, joined by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, met with the Republicans in a closed session that was partly focused on getting something done on the budget before the latest CR runs out Feb. 8, which would mean another government shutdown.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, came out of the closed session to state that Mattis and Tillerson were "very clear and direct about the imperative of getting a budget agreement in place so that we can end the series of CRs."
He called on Democrats not to "hold the military hostage to another agenda," such as immigration reform.
"This budget dysfunction has a human cost. That's wrong," Thornberry said, but "we're just going to have to see what the situation is" as the Feb. 8 deadline approaches.
At a Pentagon briefing later Thursday, Dana White, the chief Pentagon spokesperson, said the DoD is gearing up to release the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) mapping out how the department will need billions more to shore up the nuclear triad of bombers, land-based missiles, and missile submarines.
"The NPR relies on stable, predictable budgets and, one week from today, the CR expires," White said. "So I trust that Congress will do their job and pass a budget and write the check."
White's trust was apparently misplaced.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, emerged from huddles at the Greenbrier later Thursday to announce that his team was making progress with the Democrats on finally reaching agreement on a fiscal 2018 budget -- but, as usual, they needed more time.
So "even if we get everything figured out by Tuesday, we still will have to have a [CR], if only for the fact that we have to give the appropriators time to write an omnibus appropriations bill," he said.
Should another CR be enacted, it would be the fifth since Congress failed to reach a budget deal by the required date for the fiscal 2018 budget at the start of the fiscal year -- Oct. 1.
Depending on who's doing the counting, Congress has notched budget deal failures and had to rely on CRs at one point or another in either the last nine or 10 years.
By Thornberry's count, the entire government has been operating on CRs for a total of three full years over the last nine.
Earlier this week, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered his thoughts on how strange the annual budget slog has become.
At a breakfast with defense reporters Tuesday, Selva said the DoD is now in the process of coming up with a proposed budget for fiscal 2019 while still stuck without a budget for fiscal 2018 and operating at 2017 spending levels because of the CRs.
"There ought to be more than just a little irony in your mind of the fact we're trying to deliver a proposed budget on time to the Hill when we don't know what we're actually going to get for '18," he said.
"This is called gambling," Selva said. "Most of us don't do it with our own money."
The budget fiasco even came in for comment at the Pentagon unveiling ceremony Friday for former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's official portrait.
Mattis, who presided at the ceremony, got a good laugh out of at Carter's dig at Congress.
In his remarks, Carter said that he had to pay for the portrait, since Congress in 2016 passed a bill eliminating government funding for official portraits.
"I paid for the portrait myself," he said. He didn't say how much he paid, but noted that Congress passed a law making him pay for it and "that didn't leave time for other matters, like passing a timely defense budget."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.