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CQ Roll Call | House Appropriators to Launch Bills to Boost Defense, Slash Domestic Spending

May 20, 2013
In The News

House Appropriators to Launch Bills to Boost Defense, Slash Domestic Spending
By Kerry Young | CQ Roll Call | May 20, 2013



The top House appropriator will advance a plan that breaks with budget law to spare the Pentagon from deep cuts but still falls short of President Barack Obama’s request for defense spending.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., is on track to win a partisan Tuesday vote by his committee for a plan to divide the $967 billion currently available for regular discretionary spending in the next budget year.

In making allocations under what are known as 302(b) allocations for the committee’s 12 bills, Rogers is sticking with the current law (PL 112-25PL 112-240) that sets the cap on total federal spending for fiscal 2014. But the GOP measure would break from the law in splitting money between defense and the rest of the federal government’s operating expenses.

Republicans are seeking to provide roughly $522 billion for the Pentagon’s regular discretionary spending, less than the $526.6 billion requested by the White House for fiscal 2014, but breaking through the cap of $498 billion for defense. This category also includes about $25 billion in other expenses, such as the cost of the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons program.

Under spending caps set by law, defense spending in the 2014 fiscal year is capped at $498 billion while domestic discretionary spending is capped at $469 billion.

Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., set defense spending at $552 billion in his fiscal 2014 budget resolution (H Con Res 25), which passed the House in March with only GOP support. Rogers and Ryan have proposed shrinking the rest of the federal government to hit the overall cap for discretionary spending under sequester.

But Rogers’ plan may fall short of the Ryan budget’s level of $552 billion for defense spending if he proceeds with more of his bills under the current arrangements.

Under the broad defense category, known as Function 050, the White House requested $17.9 billion for atomic weapons, $4.8 billion for certain FBI activities and another $2 billion for other activities. To match Ryan and Obama, Rogers would need to significantly add to these accounts to make up for having fallen about $4 billion below Obama’s request for the Pentagon.

Appropriators need to stick with the top-line spending cap set in annual budget resolutions, but they are free to ignore the way that funds have been parceled out among the budget functions. There is defense Function 050 money in the Energy-Water spending bills, which covers atomic weapons, and in the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which funds the FBI. The committee has not announced plans for marking up these measures.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., meanwhile, intends to mark up her committee’s bills to a $1.058 trillion cap.

Lawmakers in both parties and chambers have said that the final fiscal 2014 discretionary spending cap will be set by a larger budget deal, tied to the next increase in the debt limit. In the meantime, Rogers is seeking to advance several spending bills that may win some bipartisan support that could be included in a final package for the next fiscal year.

Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., the chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee, and Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania, ranking Democrat on the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations panel, are among the senior members of the committee who have spoken of a plan to advance four bills — Agriculture, Defense, Homeland Security and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs.

Combined, these four measures account for more than half of the annual discretionary budget, even under the $1.058 cap.

“They are the easiest to create a consensus around. There is a chance of bipartisan cooperation on those four to sort of create some momentum,” Tom Cole, R-Okla., an appropriator. “We can’t create law when the two sides are some $90 billion apart, so at some point above our committee there is going to have to be an agreement.”

Cole said passing more fiscal 2014 spending bills in the House would be a challenge under the current cap. Few Democrats will back measures that dramatically cut domestic spending, and GOP leaders can’t count   on their own ranks to support the spending bills even if they reflect the $967 billion cap passed in the budget resolution with only Republican votes.

“That puts a special responsibility on those who asked for lower spending,” Cole said. “If you voted for the Ryan budget and you fought for this, then it seems to me that you have an obligation to vote for the work product as long as it is within that number.”

But some Republicans might still balk at that, Cole said. The cuts included might not be enough to satisfy some of GOP budget hawks, while others might be surprised to see how deeply the cuts may affect their districts.

“If we are hurting your area by operating within the number that you gave us, then maybe you need to rethink where you are at,” Cole said.