House Appropriators Prepare to Unveil New Spending Plan

Posted February 22, 2013 at 2:21pm

House appropriators may unveil as early as the coming week their proposal for funding the federal government in the second half of fiscal 2013, but there’s no decision yet on whether the Republican leadership may bring the bill to the floor.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., is putting together a package that will combine new Defense and Military Construction-VA bills with a continuing resolution covering much of the rest of the government. House leadership has not yet decided whether to take up this package and when it would bring up the bill if it does proceed with it, an aide said.

But Rogers’ measure is considered likely to become a vehicle for moving any agreement, if Democrats and Republicans can reach one, to alter the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin Friday under the sequester. The House could pass Rogers’ version of the CR, and then the Senate could take it up and use it to pass both overdue fiscal 2013 appropriations and any potential deal on the sequester.

The March 27 expiration of the current CR (PL 112-175) presents Congress with something of a hard deadline in its current budget battles. Although the sequester takes effect Friday, it may take some time for the impact to become evident since it may be 30 days before furloughs of federal workers begin. But much of the federal government will be temporarily shut down if Congress doesn’t clear new appropriations laws when the current continuing resolution expires.

With both chambers slated to be in recess for two weeks starting March 25, Congress likely will have to clear another fiscal 2013 appropriations measure the week before.

Rogers and his Senate counterpart, Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, have said they would like to package up agreements their committees reached on spending bills that were completed and nearly completed last year into an omnibus measure. They argue that would better address the current needs of federal agencies and programs than another simple continuation of spending laws.

“I am hoping that Congressman Rogers can pass this and the Senate can get to work on it,” Mikulski said at a press conference last week at the National Institutes of Health.

But leaders in both chambers may find it easier to opt for another six-month CR covering many federal agencies. The White House already has sent the House Appropriations Committee its list of special exceptions, known as anomalies, that it wants in the CR.

The CR will be written to reflect current budget law, Rogers says. It would be set at the $1.043 trillion discretionary spending cap set for the current budget year in the fiscal law (PL 112-240), with the expectation that the sequester may then cut about $69 billion from this spending unless Congress acts to undo the automatic spending cuts. Rogers has said he intends to include very few anomalies in the CR, meaning it will mostly do little more than extend for a second time the fiscal 2012 appropriations (PL 112-55, PL 112-74) that were enacted in late 2011.

Some fiscal hawks believe the use of CRs, with spending plans that keep most agencies operating with no funding increases over the previous year, encourage thrift by forcing agencies to come up new savings.

Joseph Minarik, director of research at the nonprofit Committee for Economic Development, says that’s misguided. Minarik, who was the chief economist for the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration, said agencies can’t take steps that would lead to major savings under the restrictive spending bills.

“You prevent the opportunity to make significant changes in policy, he said. Instead, agencies must continue operating under stale operating instructions, leaving them “doing the same thing over and over again.”

“I think it’s pennywise and pound foolish,” he said.

Among the anomalies the White House requested is language to block a pay increase for senior political officials in the executive branch who would otherwise be in line for an automatic pay raise of 0.5 percent after March 27, a House aide said.

The CR also could bring an official end to a veterans’ job training program that the Obama administration and congressional appropriators agree can be eliminated. The Veterans Workforce Improvement Program, which received $15 million in fiscal 2012, duplicates another program that helps former servicemembers get training and find jobs, the Office of Management and Budget said in its fiscal 2013 budget request. That program was slated for elimination in the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2013 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations that stalled last year.

The current CR kept the program alive, at least theoretically, but no money has been spent on it in fiscal 2013, according to the Labor Department. The White House has asked House and Senate appropriators to shift the funding to other efforts to aid veterans.