Congress was close Thursday to passing a two-year spending deal that would avoid a government shutdown, bust through the budget caps and set defense funding at a total of about $1.42 trillion for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
The deal would solidify the 2.4 percent military pay raise for 2018 that President Donald Trump authorized with an executive order in December but it was unclear as yet what the pay raise proposal would be for 2019.
The Defense Department was due to present its fiscal 2019 budget requests on Monday, and Dana White, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, said Thursday that "relevant" details would be included.
In a Thursday morning tweet, Trump praised the tentative deal as "so important for our great Military. It ends the dangerous sequester and gives [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis what he needs to keep America Great. Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!"
The compromise worked out by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, still faced opposition from deficit hawks in the House but Mattis said Wednesday he was confident the measure would pass.
As part of the deal, Congress will also likely have to pass another continuing resolution (CR) -- it would be the fifth since the failure to pass a budget for all government operations at the start of fiscal 2018 last Oct. 1 -- to avoid a government shutdown at midnight Thursday when the fourth CR runs out.
Another resolution would allow time for the 12 Appropriations Committees in Congress to work out details of the two-year spending package. Congressional leaders were considering a CR that would last until March 23.
The key to the deal was the Republicans' agreement to couple major boosts in defense spending with similar amounts of non-defense spending on such items as infrastructure, disaster relief, opioid treatment, and children's health care.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, had argued for decoupling defense and non-defense spending. Their refrain was that defense funding should not be "held hostage" to domestic spending.
House Democrats led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, had also argued for a solid promise from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to be included in the budget deal to hold a vote on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) act, which will expire next month under a rescission ordered last September by Trump.
Under DACA, an estimated 800,000 individuals brought here illegally as minors have been allowed to remain in the U.S. An estimated 800-900 of the individuals currently serve in the military and could face deportation.
At a Pentagon briefing Thursday, White said "we remain optimistic that Congress will do its job, pass the budget and write the check" on the two-year deal.
She said the Defense Department was prepared to outline its 2019 spending requests on Monday but first "we need to make sure the deal goes through."
Under the proposed two-year budget deal, the Defense Department would receive about $700 billion this year and $716 billion next year. At the White House Wednesday, Mattis said he would be "very happy with $700 [billion] for this year, and $716 [billion] for next."
The amounts would break through the budget caps of the sequester process of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) for at least the next two years.
For 2018, the cap under the BCA for the Pentagon's base budget was set at $549 billion. That cap would be raised by $80 billion to $629 billion in 2018 under the proposed deal.
The total for 2018 would be brought to $700 billion by about $71 billion in the so-called "war budget" -- the funding for the Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan wars called "Overseas Contingency Operations" -- which is not limited by the BCA. A similar process would be used to reach $716 billion in defense spending for 2019.
Passage of the two-year deal appeared to be reliant on House Democrats. House Speaker Ryan said he was confident of getting at least 120 Republican votes, which would mean he would need the support of about half of the 193 Democrats in the House to pass the bill.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.