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Despite Sequester, House Panel Proposes DoD Budget Hike

Mar. 4, 2013 - 04:43PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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U.S. House Republicans have unveiled a government-wide 2013 spending measure that would fund the Pentagon at a higher level than it requested, despite the so-feared sequester cuts that began on Friday.

The Defense Department appropriations bill is attached to the House GOP leadership’s offering to what will be the next messy political fight in Washington: a struggle over an expiring funding bill that threatens to shut down the federal government.

Over half of the $982 billion continuing resolution (CR) introduced Monday by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., would fund DoD for the remainder of fiscal 2013. It proposes $518.1 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, which would be $2 billion larger than the Obama administration’s request.

All components of the massive continuing resolution have been adjusted to account for the so-called sequestration cuts, which were triggered Friday and are set to reduce projected defense and domestic spending by about $1 trillion over a decade.

For the Afghanistan conflict, the fight against al-Qaida and other overseas contingencies, the House panel proposes $87.2 billion for the remainder of 2013. It also includes a full Department of Veterans Affairs spending bill.

The House passed a 2013 defense appropriations bill last session; the Senate, however, never took up a Pentagon spending bill.

Sources confirmed in recent weeks that staff from the House and Senate Appropriations committees have huddled over the contents of a final DoD appropriations bill. Those talks were spawned late last year when it was a possibility — though a longshot — that congressional leaders might opt for an omnibus appropriations bill to replace the current CR.

That never transpired, but “they got pretty close” to hammering out a compromise version of a 2013 defense appropriations bill, one House GOP source said last month.

“The legislation will avoid a government shutdown on March 27, prioritize DoD and Veterans programs, and allow the Pentagon some leeway to do its best with the funding it has,” Rogers said in a statement “It is clear that this nation is facing some very hard choices, and it’s up to Congress to pave the way for our financial future.” Rogers said.

“But right now, we must act quickly and try to make the most of a difficult situation. This bill will fund essential federal programs and services, help maintain our national security, and take a potential shutdown off the table. This CR package is the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it.”

House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told reporters last Friday that the chamber’s DoD appropriations bill would give the Pentagon some needed fiscal maneuverability.

A CR means federal agency leaders largely are unable to fully fund certain programs and accounts, while also lacking the authority to transfer monies among accounts.

Giving DoD an actual appropriations bill would remove those limits, Thornberry 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,” he said.

Pentagon and White House officials have warned for months that the sequester cuts would hit military operations and maintenance (O&M) accounts hard. They said the across-the-board 10 percent cut to all non-exempt accounts in fiscal 2013 would cause much planned maintenance and training to be canceled or severely scaled back.

The House CR appears to provide some relief: It calls for $173.5 billion in O&M, which is $1.4 billion below the administration’s request but a $10.4 billion hike over current levels.

On procurement, the bill’s proposed $100.4 billion level would be $4.21 billion below 2012 levels and $1.3 billion smaller than the administration’s request.

For all research and development accounts, the House bill proposes $70 billion. That would be $2.5 billion below last year’s levels but $521 million above the administration’s request.

A committee summary of the bill notes it contains “common-sense decisions to save taxpayer dollars where possible, in areas that will not affect the safety or success of our troops and missions.”

That list includes: “$4 billion in savings from rescissions of unused prior-year funding; $515 million for unjustified Army growth funding; and $500 million for excess inventory of spare parts and secondary items.”

Senate Democratic leaders and Appropriations Committee leaders have yet to announce their plan for moving the upper chamber’s CR.

It remains unclear whether that bill will also feature a full defense appropriations bill.

HASC Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters Friday, “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 ease some pain associated with the $46 billion it must cut under sequestration before Oct. 1, 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.”

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