WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Wednesday, after a sometimes partisan debate, approved a $518.1 billion Pentagon spending bill that was included in a massive spending measure to keep the federal government open until Sept. 30.
The chamber, racing to get out of town as a snowstorm embraced the Washington region, approved a House Appropriations Committee-crafted $982 billion continuing resolution (CR) that would keep the federal government running beyond March 27. It includes a full 2013 Pentagon appropriations bill that is $2 billion larger than requested by the Obama administration.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the full defense spending bill would allow “the Pentagon to do its best with what it has.” To stay under sequestration spending caps, it finds savings by removing proposed spending on spare parts and for the Iraq conflict, Rogers said Wednesday.
Before the bill passed by a 267-151 vote, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., hailed movement toward a bill to avert a government shutdown and give the Pentagon some budget breathing room a “return to regular order” on Capitol Hill.
Joining 214 Republicans in voting for the measure were 53 Democrats. Fourteen Republicans defected to join 137 Democrats in opposing the bill and 13 members did not vote.
House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made an appearance late in the floor debate to disagree, sharply saying the Republican-written CR “has no merit.”
She accused Republicans of including a provision that “reaffirms” the sequestration cuts “to send a dangerous message” that they are not serious about replacing them. Essentially, Pelosi charged Republicans are trying to lock in the sequestration spending levels, which could complicate efforts to restore specific accounts if a sequester-replacement package is eventually struck.
Moments later, House Republicans fought off an attempt by Democrats to strike the bill’s sequestration language.
What’s more, Pelosi said Republicans “know the Senate is not going to accept this bill.” And when the Senate sends back a different version of the CR, Pelosi said she doubts there will be ample Republican votes to avert a government shutdown.
Pro-defense lawmakers from both parties have said since the CR was rolled out on Monday that the panel and GOP leaders agreed to attach a full Pentagon bill because 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.
Hawkish lawmakers and Appropriations Committee leaders said the across-the-board sequestration cuts, which last Friday triggered a $500 billion, decade-spanning cut to planned defense spending, made a full 2013 DoD spending bill necessary. In addition to flexibility, the Appropriations Committee added funds to those military accounts that will be hit hardest by sequestration, like operations and maintenance coffers.
“Let’s not forget that sequestration will still strike our national defense,” House Appropriations Committee Ranking Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey of New York said Wednesday.
“Even if this bill is enacted, another $46 billion will be subtracted from defense spending,” Lowey said. “Most of the civilian work force will face significant furloughs, readiness will still face cuts, and defense healthcare will need to make some tough choices with scarce resources.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said on the floor that enacting the House’s full DoD bill would allow the Army to avoid cutting 37,000 flying hours for its helicopter pilots.
House Republican and Democratic members took to the chamber floor Wednesday during debate on the bill. Those who helped craft it mostly applauded it. Some expressed gripes about specific items included or left out. And still others supported an onmibus appropriations bill to give other agencies the same flexibility.
Some Democrats, such as Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts and Rep. David Price of North Carolina, questioned why the Defense Department should get special treatment.
Cole said other senior House appropriators say they are ready to review whatever CR the Senate passes and sends back. Cole said once the Senate passes its version, House and Senate appropriators will enter conference committee talks “in a bipartisan and bicameral manner.”
Numerous GOP members said they expect the Senate may amend the House-passed CR.
Several Republicans told reporters they would not be opposed if Senate Democratic leaders and its Appropriations Committee tacked on other agency spending bills to its CR to create a “mini-omnibus.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee is readying its version of the bill, and is expected to vote on it next week.
The White House on Tuesday signaled President Obama would not veto the House bill if that’s the version — or something very close — is what eventually reaches his desk. Last Friday, Obama said he would pass any CR that reflects previous fiscal legislation.
In a policy statement, the White House said only that it is has “deep concerns” about the economic impact of the House CR.
Many Republicans appeared on the House floor Wednesday morning to applaud the bill’s authors for adjusting its provisions to reflect the spending cuts being implemented under sequestration.
“The most important thing that’s happening this morning is the savings enacted last week are reflected in this bill,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas. “It’s time to let those savings work their magic on the U.S. economy.”