WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday voiced its opposition — but not a veto threat — to a House spending measure that includes a full 2013 Pentagon appropriations bill.
The White House’s announcement came as the House Rules Committee was clearing an Appropriations Committee-crafted $982 billion continuing resolution (CR) that would keep the federal government running until Sept. 30. The measure includes a $518.1 billion 2013 Pentagon appropriations bill.
In the same policy statement, the White House addressed the twin $500 billion sequestration cuts to planned defense and domestic spending that began on Friday, saying President Obama wants to find a way to replace them.
The White House said it is “deeply concerned” about the economic impact it believes the House CR would cause. Specifically, the White House said it “raises concerns about the government’s ability to protect consumers, avoid deep cuts in critical services that families depend on, and implement critical domestic priorities such as access to quality and affordable health care.”
But, notably, the statement did not threaten a veto nor state Obama’s top aides would recommend one. On Friday, Obama told reporters he likely would sign a CR so long as it complied with past fiscal and budgetary legislation.
To that end, the White House applauded the House Appropriations Committee for putting forth a CR that “is consistent with the mutually agreed upon budget framework in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
“While the legislation includes the Department of Defense and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and related agencies fiscal year 2013 bills, the remainder of federal agencies are left to operate at last year’s level,” the White House said.
The House said it will vote on the bill Wednesday morning.
During the Rules Committee session, Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., also questioned why the Pentagon should receive special treatment under the lower chamber’s government-wide spending bill.
Both House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., and Ranking Member Nita Lowey, Rep. D-N.Y., said numerous times during the hearing that the military needs the flexibility that a full-year appropriations bill would provide.
Under a CR, federal agency heads are severely limited in moving monies among accounts, meaning they cannot shift funds that might no longer be needed from one program to a higher-priority program that needs a cash infusion.
The Pentagon spending bill included in the stopgap measure, Lowey said, “is not more money,” pointing to defense leaders’ calls for the budget transfer authority.
A HAC summary released Monday said the DoD bill is $2 billion larger than the administration’s request.
The White House also said the House bill, as written, “will impede [the] ability to provide services to Americans and efficiently allocate funding to key programs, including those in infrastructure, clean energy, education, and research and development.”
But, importantly, the administration signaled its desire to “[work] with the Congress to refine the legislation to address these concerns.”
Senior Senate Democrats said Tuesday they hope to move a version of the stopgap spending bill out of committee next week.
Several pro-defense senators told reporters they are taking a wait-and-see approach before endorsing the House’s approach of pushing a CR with an attached full-year Pentagon spending measure. Each said they want to review the Senate’s bill before weighing in on the proper way ahead.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters the House bill and approach are a “good start.”
Meantime, the White House bluntly said Obama wants to turn off the sequestration cuts, which are set to be implemented over the next decade.
“As the Congress considers this bill, the administration will continue to press the Congress to eliminate the automatic and arbitrary cuts to current funding levels imposed by the ... sequestration,” the statement said, reiterating he wants a large fiscal deal that would replace the cuts.
During the Rules panel hearing, Rogers said once the CR/government shutdown issue is addressed, “perhaps we can deal with sequestration later.”
Lowey made clear she wants to do so, but like her GOP colleague, by following the CR process.
Echoing other House Republicans, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., told Rogers and Lowey he “appreciates … that you have stuck to the sequester [funding] levels.”