More than 40,000 active-duty troops in the Pikes Peak region will have to wait at least an extra two months for pay raises, as the bases where they serve await cash for construction projects and the Space Force delays its launch due to congressional wrangling.
Money for pay raises, projects and programs such as the Space Force, and the policies needed to back them, are tied up in Congress as House and Senate negotiators try to hammer out a more than $725 billion budget accord that crosses party lines. And lawmakers have waved the white flag on a Sept. 30 deadline for the measures, with a deal struck for temporary government funding, but no new initiatives, through Nov. 21.
Reaching a final resolution rests on the shoulders of lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, who was chosen as one of the House members sent to a conference committee to cut a deal with the Senate on the National Defense Authorization Act.
What has tied things up is a GOP White House under President Donald Trump and a Senate battling a Democratic majority in the House. From funds for a border wall to nuclear weapons proposals, the chambers have differing views that will be difficult to reconcile.
Lamborn told The Gazette he sees himself as an emissary between the Senate Republicans and his Democratic House colleagues on the conference panel.
“This has got to be a bipartisan solution and agreement,” he said.
The military budget and policy bills that were supposed to take hold Oct. 1 contained big provisions for Colorado Springs, including $325 million for construction projects, including a new space operations center for Schriever Air Force Base.
Another provision would create a sixth armed service, the Space Force, which would use Colorado Springs airmen for most of its troops.
The delay is partly tied to Trump’s move this month of $3.6 billion from military construction, including $8 million from a Peterson Air Force project, to pay for the wall on the Mexican border. That move infuriated Democrats.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., who heads the readiness panel, signaled this week that his caucus won’t back down from blocking the wall project, triggering a hard negotiation with Senate Republicans.
“The Readiness Subcommittee took bold steps in its subcommittee mark to address the climate crisis and prohibit the president from usurping Congress’ power of the purse by raiding vital military construction projects to pay for his border wall,” Garamendi said in an email.
Senate Democrats — including Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet — moved Wednesday to block a military budget bill, based largely on objections to the border wall. Bennet, who is seeking his party’s nomination for the presidency, took to Twitter to call using military cash for the wall an “abuse of power and an insult to America’s service members.”
Lamborn, ranking Republican on Garamendi’s subcommittee, said he understands the Democrats’ desire to halt the border wall, which he supports.
“Just don’t take it out on the military,” he said.
Lamborn’s response is mild compared with those of some other Colorado Republican federal lawmakers.
“As global tensions increase, it is shameful that Senate Democrats are choosing to filibuster this appropriations bill which would provide funding for the men and women in uniform who protect our country every day,” Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in an email. “Colorado military members deserve to know that leaders in Congress have their backs and support their mission — it’s time for Senate Democrats to stop playing politics with national defense and support these military priorities.”
While he’s long been known as one of the House’s most conservative lawmakers, Lamborn said he’s still optimistic that the lawmakers can come up with a military plan before the temporary budget measure runs dry in November.
There is reason for hope. Congressional leaders and President Trump agreed in principle this summer to a budget accord, which would stave off automatic budget cuts and seemed a rare sign of harmony on Capitol Hill.
But there’s also plenty of reason to doubt that lawmakers will bridge the partisan divide.
Since 2013, partisan fights have shut down the federal government three times, shuttering offices and putting military paychecks in jeopardy.
Lamborn, though, said few desire a shutdown ahead of the 2020 election.
“No one wants and we don’t anticipate a government shutdown.”