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House Passes Short-Term CR, Impact on Defense Called 'Not Good'

Sep. 20, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Boehner, Cantor Lead House Republicans In Rally Ag
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner celebrates Friday morning during a rally with other House Republicans after a passage of a spending bill that defunds President Obama's health care law and keeps the government running until December 15. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Showdown Over a Shutdown

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WASHINGTON — The US House passed a measure Friday that would fund the federal government through mid-December, but its controversial health care provision raised odds for a government shutdown.

The GOP-crafted $986 billion continuing resolution narrowly passed the lower chamber by a 230-189 vote, with two Democrats voting in favor and one Republican against. The vote moved Washington one step closer to a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

For the Pentagon and US defense sector, a shutdown would mean the Defense Department and other security agencies could not award new contracts. Private-sector employees who work on DoD weapon programs at government facilities across the country would be unable to access their offices.

“We’re dusting off 17-year-old documents trying to figure that out,” House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash., told reporters after voting Friday morning. “There are some things under a shutdown that you have to fund, some things you can. It’s not good, let’s put it that way.”

Language in the House-passed measure that would kill funding for President Barack Obama’s health care law means the measure will be substantially altered by the Senate.

The Senate will take up the House-passed CR early next week, but it remains unclear whether the House would even take up a Senate version that excludes the Obamacare-killing section.

House members and aides are unsure whether House GOP leaders would even bring a Senate-passed version that excludes the health care language before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

“If it comes to a vote, I think it passes,” Smith said. “But I always say I’m not in the predictions business — especially around here these days.”

Sequestration: Bargain Chip?

Getting a CR through the House could require mostly Democratic support. But that means minority leaders will have to twist some arms.

Democratic House Appropriations Defense subcommittee member James Moran, who hails from defense sector- and military-friendly Virginia, told Defense News he would vote no any any CR that does not address sequestration.

“Because the sequester, I find, is unacceptable,” Moran said. “And I refuse to allow it to become the new norm.”

“I’m willing to shut down the government to get rid of the sequester,” Moran said. “I think this is about the long-term interests of the government and the country. This is not going to be a world-class economy and a progressive society if the government isn’t able to play its role.”

Rep, Randy Forbes, R-Va., a senior House Armed Services Committee member, said he believes a government shutdown “would be another component that just layers in on the dismantling that we’re doing to the national security of the country.”

Forbes said he was a “yay” vote on this CR “because it keeps the process going.”

“But I’m not going to promise to make a commitment unless we do something to kind of turn around some of this [defense] funding when it comes back,” he said.

Another senior HASC member, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, said he, too, is unsure whether the House and Senate can agree to a single temporary CR by 11: 59 pm. on Sept. 30.

“I don’t know what the dance will be in the negotiations,” Turner said. “This is just the first salvo. … The most important element is sequestration, which isn’t even on the table.”

Notably, both Forbes and Turner immediately began talking about sequestration when asked about the CR debate.

“The president should be coming to the table with a plan to set aside sequestration,” Turner said.

As first reported by Defense News earlier this year, Obama’s 2014 budget plan proposed to do just that. It was DOA in the House, which passed a much different budget resolution.

Moran says he’s unsure whether enough members would join the fix sequestration in the CR cause, but he said he plans to make his case next week.

Other House members expect sequester to be addressed in mid-December, when an eventual short-term CR would expire.

Christian Marrone, vice president for National Security and Acquisition Policy at the Aerospace Industries Association, says a shutdown would “grinds everything to a complete halt.”

“There isn't even anyone to pick up the phones at that point," Marrone said. "Our companies are always dialoguing with the [Defense] Department on various issues; if the government's not in business, it just adds further delays to what we've already seen under furloughs."

"Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead — dead," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "It's a waste of time."

"They're simply postponing the inevitable choice they must make: Pass a clean bill to fund the government or shut it down," Reid said. "House Republicans' pointless political games are wasting time."

'Two Thumbs Down'

On Friday, Senate Democrats floated a document featuring quotes from 20 Senate Republicans voicing opposition to the House’s decision to include the Obamacare language.

The Senate Democratic document is designed like a motion picture ad, featuring tea party-aligned Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“From the party that brought you a US credit downgrade,” the Democrats’ document states. “Other Republicans give it two thumbs down.”

It then lists quote after quote from skeptical Senate Republicans.

House Republicans and Democrats told Defense News on Friday they have no idea what will happen next week once the Senate, as expected, kills the House-approved Obamacare section.

If House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, knows, he’s not tipping his hand.

Asked Friday if he has settled on his plans for what the House will do next week after the Senate has passed a different version, Boehner replied: “Oh, not yet,” according to one report.

Reid and other Democratic leaders spent much of the week hammering Boehner of bowing to the most conservative members of his caucus by agreeing to attach the Obamacare-nixing language to the CR.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at one point referred to the measure as the “tea party continuing resolution.”

'This Place Is A Mess'

Democratic leaders charged most House Republicans with rooting for a government shutdown.

But Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, rejected those charges Friday morning.

“We’ve heard a lot over the last few days about Republicans wanting to shut down the government,” Simpson said on the House floor. “If that were true, we wouldn’t be doing a short-term CR.”

To support his view, Simpson noted Republicans added funds to the short-term funding measure to help fight fires out West.

What’s more, Simpson said House Republicans oppose passing another short-term government-wide spending plan because when Congress fails to pass individual appropriations bills, it drives up costs that are passed on to taxpayers.

“We can’t fall into the abyss of short-term CRs,” Simpson said. “If you think that’s a way to save money, it is not.”

Boehner’s decision to move forward with a vote on a temporary CR that includes the health care law-killing language further eroded relations between the two parties in the lower chamber.

At one point Friday morning, an angry Pelosi roared on the House floor: “This place is a mess!”

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