Congress is poised to pass legislation that authorizes $618.7 billion in defense spending for 2017, including a military pay raise, an accelerated shipbuilding schedule and other items of importance to Hampton Roads.
But provisions of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, once passed, won't kick in for months because Congress plans to freeze spending at 2016 levels at least through the spring to give President-elect Donald Trump more time to weigh in.
The authorization bill requires new spending legislation to be effective.
So while Sen. Tim Kaine likes what he sees in the authorization bill, he called it "unfortunate" that Trump pressed Congress to hold spending at 2016 levels well into the new year.
Trump has vowed to boost the U.S. military, "but his first action injects uncertainty into military budgets," said Kaine, the former Democratic vice presidential candidate and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, is a Trump supporter who chairs the military readiness panel on the House Armed Services Committee.
"I am not a fan of continuing resolutions by any means," he said, "but I can understand the new administration wanting the ability to have an impact on spending decisions when they come in."
Had Congress met its deadlines earlier in the year, Wittman said, no continuing resolution would have been needed.
With federal spending expecting to be frozen and no new program starts authorized, Virginia lawmakers are now pushing for exceptions, or anomalies, to be included in the bill. Two important ones are for uninterrupted funding for new ballistic missile submarines and advance work on aircraft carriers.
Democrats and Republicans do seem to agree that the 2017 authorization bill, if and when it is funded, will benefit the region in a several ways.
It authorizes a 2.1 percent pay raise in 2017 for active-duty troops. Kaine says he feels "very good" about budgets for ship and submarine construction. It also authorizes an additional $318 million for ship maintenance that could benefit Hampton Roads shipyards, he said.
The bill lessens the severity of budget cuts to military headquarters locations, an issue of importance to Northern Virginia as well as Hampton Roads. Kaine said he didn't consider the original cuts "strategic" enough.
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, pointed to a provision that would benefit Newport News Shipbuilding in the years to come. It would allow aircraft carriers to be built every four years instead of every five. The Newport News shipyard, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, is the sole builder of nuclear-powered carriers for the Navy.
It authorizes the administration to accelerate production of another San Antonio class amphibious warship or the next generation LX(R) ship. Ingalls Shipbuilding, also a division of HII, builds the San Antonio ships and has won a majority of the design work on the new LX(R).
Forbes also said the bill authorizes two military construction projects at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, details of which were not available Wednesday.
Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.