WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats sparred for hours Wednesday over deep cuts to planned Pentagon spending before approving a nearly $513 billion military spending bill.
House Appropriations Committee Democrats threw some sharp rhetorical elbows at the panel’s Republican leaders, with several charging the GOP-crafted Pentagon appropriations bill “breaks the law.”
But later, they helped pass it.
Panel Ranking Member Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. called the committee’s $512.5 billion 2014 defense appropriations bill “good” — but only “if considered on its own merits.” Lowey and other HAC Democrats said during a panel mark up of the legislation that it should have reflected spending caps set it August 2011.
They also hit the Republicans for crafting a defense spending bill that ignores the next round of defense sequestration cuts, set to reduce the Pentagon’s 2014 budget by about $50 billion this fall. If enacted without proposing how to get the defense budget under the caps, DoD officials would simply again trim all non-exempt accounts by about 9 percent.
“The majority ignores sequestration when it suits their purposes — for veterans, homeland security, and today, for defense,” Lowey said.
Democratic Reps. Jose Serrano of New York and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut also criticized the GOP bill’s funding level and approach, which they said proposes to offset some defense cuts by instead trimming domestic programs.
“I wonder if my friends on the other side of the aisle will have the courage of their convictions to explain why it is acceptable to ask working families to dig deeper than they already have,” Lowey said. “Why would we slash research for Alzheimer’s and autism, kick children off the rolls of Head Start, and evict low-income families?”
Serrano said the GOP’s proposed cuts to domestic programs also constitute a “national-security risk,” tying the health of the US economy to its strength against potential foes.
“When we cuts those [domestic] programs, we are creating a national-security risk,” he said. “There are other ways to protect the homeland … and make sure that the bottom and the middle” of American society “is as strong as the military.”
Committee leaders defended their bill, which passed easily, with most Democratic members ultimately voting in favor of sending it to the full House.
The measure is $3.4 billion smaller than the Pentagon’s 2014 base budget request, and includes an $85.8 billion war-funding section that would be $1.5 billion larger than the Pentagon is seeking.
“This bill makes the hard choices to keep our nation safe, secure, and constantly prepared for whatever threats we may face. It provides funding to advance our missions abroad, to prepare and equip our troops, and to ensure the effectiveness of the world’s greatest military,” House Appropriation Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky, said.
In a statement that struck the opposite tone of Lowey and the Democrats, Rogers added, “Given our current budget challenges, it reflects commonsense decisions that save taxpayer dollars wherever possible, without affecting the safety or success of our troops and missions.”
Still, Rogers acknowledged the legislation proposes “a decrease of more than $5 billion below last year’s enacted level, and [is] approximately $28.1 billion above the current sequester level.”
A House Democratic aide told Defense News the GOP-written defense appropriations bill “would violate the [2011 Budget Control Act] if sequestration remains in effect.
“With sequestration in [fiscal 2014], max defense spending is $498 billion,” the Democratic aide said. “The majority is nearly $50 billion over that ceiling, and [the White House Office of Management and Budget] would be forced to sequester the difference.”
Rogers defended his approach to 2014 appropriations bills.
“It is my hope,” Rogers said, “there will soon be a budget compromise” between the House and Senate, which are controlled by different political parties and have passed very different budget resolutions.
That would allow the two chambers’ appropriations panels to pass spending bills with “common allocation levels.”
“But until that time,” the chairman said, “we cannot sit by the wayside waiting for a deal to be made.”
For full details of the HAC’s 2014 defense appropriations bill, click here.