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Obama’s Budget Is Running Late

The Obama administration’s fiscal 2014 budget is widely expected to arrive late on Capitol Hill, possibly not until sometime in March, primarily as a result of uncertainty created by fiscal cliff negotiations.

The White House and Office of Management and Budget have not said when the budget will be released. By law, the spending proposal is due the first Monday in February, which will be Feb. 4. Fiscal 2014 will begin Oct. 1.

“I think everyone that I’ve talked to, everyone’s expecting March,” said Patrick Lester, federal fiscal policy director at the Center for Effective Government, formerly called OMB Watch.

One Republican congressional aide guessed that the earliest the budget would be released would be Feb. 11 but said Feb. 18 was more likely.

A Pentagon official said that as of the end of last week, departments and agencies had not yet been told by the White House how much money they will have to work with in their fiscal 2014 budgets, a process known as “passback.” That information is usually conveyed in late November, after the administration has reviewed the agencies’ budget requests.

By this point in the budgeting process, the administration has typically communicated to departments the changes it has decided to make in their budget requests, and the agencies have responded by appealing decisions they do not like or by trying to work out a compromise with the OMB. Agencies begin submitting budget data to the OMB after passback.

Robert F. Hale, the Pentagon’s comptroller, said Monday that he expects the defense budget to be late. “I think it’s almost inevitable there will be some delay, I just don’t know what,” he said. “Normally, we would be transmitting data to OMB right now, and we’re not ready to do that.”

Preparation of the fiscal 2014 budget has been complicated by greater than usual uncertainty. Congress has not settled on final spending levels for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The government is operating on a stopgap appropriation that expires March 27. And until last week’s fiscal cliff deal was enacted, it was unclear what tax rates would be in effect or whether $109 billion in automatic spending cuts would begin on Jan. 2.

If the past is any guide, Republicans will be inclined to declare the Democratic president’s budget proposal “dead on arrival.” But at least some are anxious to see the plan.

“We have heard indications that the president’s budget may be delayed, and we would consider that unacceptable,” a Senate GOP aide said. “The president has 500 people working for him at OMB, and the law requires them to submit his budget to Congress at a specific time, not whenever they get around to it.”

Lester said he expects the fiscal 2014 budget to include a larger quotient of guesswork than in the past, since even the fiscal framework for the current year is up in the air. “I’m guessing there will be lots of asterisks in that budget,” he said.

Megan Scully contributed to this report.

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