U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks to reporters following a meeting with President Barack Obama on March 1 at the White House. (Jewel Samad / AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House next week will vote on a spending bill that would fund the military for the remainder of fiscal 2013, according to House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry.
The Texas Republican told reporters on Friday that the chamber will take up a 2013 defense appropriations bill that would give the Pentagon some fiscal maneuverability.
The department, like the rest of the federal government, is funded under a continuing resolution (CR) that keeps spending at fiscal 2012 levels, but defense officials are unable to fund certain programs and accounts due to restrictions stemming from a CR.
Having an actual appropriations bill would remove those limits.
Thornberry also said the House bill would “add flexibility and update [budget] categories that [would] reduce some of the damage of having a CR and a sequestration at the same time.”
HASC Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters “if we do [another] CR or an omnibus [appropriations to fund the all agencies], that doesn’t give them the authority” to transfer funds within their own budgets. Giving the Pentagon that authority would help soften the blow of the $46 billion it must cut in the remaining months of sequestration in fiscal 2013, McKeon said.
“The secretary of the Army told me he’ll have to cut 40 percent from operations and maintenance,” which would mean big training cancellations, McKeon said. “This cannot be allowed to happen.”
The bill, to become law, would have to pass the Senate, which last session was unable to pass any agency-specific appropriations bills.
Meantime, Thornberry and other senior HASC Republicans blasted President Barack Obama for breaking his campaign-trail promise that the sequestration cuts would not occur.
“The president promised this would not happen. The president has not brought forth one proposal to end the sequester,” an angry Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said. “The president has not turned in his homework. While the president was touring the country,” defense-sector workers and their families were “preparing for furloughs,” he added.
He blasted Obama for keeping the Pentagon officials “restrained and restricted,” and therefore unable to explain clearly to the American people the alleged effects of sequestration.
Several of the HASC Republicans called on Obama to stop calling for his “balanced approach” to produce the kind of $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package needed to permanently turn off the sequester cuts.
McKeon said House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, was prepared to tell Obama during a Friday meeting about the cuts that Republicans would not accept any new defense cuts.
They also said they will not approve any more revenues raised via new tax-rate hikes.
Boehner emerged from that meeting with a tone that suggested little progress toward averting the cuts was made. The two parties still remain divided on how to replace them, with Republicans opposed to any revenues and Democrats resistant to the kinds of entitlement program reforms the GOP is demanding. Boehner said the House will move a full CR next week. The defense bill will be part of that.
Thornberry said House Republicans plan to explore options and offer measures because “there are a lot of opportunities.”