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House Releases Continuing Resolution That Keeps Sequester Cuts in Place

House appropriators are proposing a final fiscal 2013 spending package that would effectively cap federal operating expenses at $982 billion, while giving military and veterans programs new flexibility to cushion the effects of the sequester’s automatic cuts.

The House is expected to vote Thursday on the measure (HR 933) unveiled Monday, which combines Defense and Military Construction-VA bills with a stopgap continuing resolution covering most of the rest of the federal agencies. That will give military and veterans programs greater ability to move around the funds that are provided, although it doesn’t protect them from the cuts through the sequester.

“The legislation will avoid a government shutdown on March 27, prioritize DOD and veterans programs and allow the Pentagon some leeway to do its best with the funding it has,” House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said.

The Kentucky Republican set top-line discretionary spending at the $1.043 trillion level mandated by the fiscal agreement the parties reached at the start of the year, but the spending is then cut back by the sequester that kicked in March 1.

Although Senate Democrats still may take a different approach with the CR by adding in separate measures beyond defense, neither side appears to be eager to stir a confrontation by doing much more about the sequester or potentially creating a new shutdown threat. The president and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were among those who last week predicted new fiscal 2013 appropriations would be cleared before the current six-month fiscal 2013 continuing resolution (PL 112-175) expires March 27.

The bill would provide $2 billion more than the president requested for defense in non-war funding, but the $518.1 billion in annualized spending would be about equal to the fiscal 2012 enacted level.

Otherwise, Rogers has included dozens of special exceptions, known as anomalies, in the CR, a routine practice when stopgap measures are used to fund much of the federal government for months at a time. These are intended to allow changes from the current law to address what are considered urgent needs, such as running already overcrowded federal prisons and maintaining staff levels for border protection and at the FBI.

Among the anomalies included in Rogers’ CR is a bid to provide roughly $2 billion more than the current level for embassy security, which supports the full fiscal 2013 request and increased security needs identified after the attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya. Additional funding is also intended for keeping new weather satellite programs on track.

It remains unclear how the Senate will proceed with the House bill if it is passed. The easiest path to preventing a government shutdown would be for the Senate to clear the House’s bill unchanged, but many Democrats balk at this thought. And, if the House passes Rogers’ bill March 7, there still would be time to proceed with a final fiscal 2013 package that gives many domestic agencies the same kind of aid offered to the military and veterans programs in managing the sequester.

Democrats in both chambers have been pushing to replace the CR in Rogers’ bill with as many as 10 new spending bills, which would also provide fresh instructions.

“I am pleased the Republican majority is finally advancing the long-delayed appropriations process,” said New York Rep. Nita M. Lowey, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “I am disappointed, however, the proposal would lock most of the federal government into outdated plans and spending levels.”

So far, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has publicly supported efforts by Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., to replace Rogers’ more restrictive package with one that would include 12 new bills and thus not need a CR.

Like Rogers’ measure, such an omnibus package of a dozen spending bills would offer agencies some tools to cope with the spending cuts under sequester, but it wouldn’t undo the cuts. Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a senior GOP appropriator, favors this approach.

It’s also possible Mikulski could add only a few of the less controversial spending bills to Rogers’ measure while proceeding with a simple CR to fund programs covered in the most contentious appropriations bills, such as the Labor-HHS-Education and Financial Services bills.

These two measures draw conservative ire as they contain some funding used to implement the 2010 laws overhauling health care (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) and financial services (PL 112-203).

The conservative Club for Growth is considering counting the CR as a key vote against members if GOP leadership doesn’t allow a change in the Rogers bill that would specifically block any funds from being used to help implement the 2010 health care overhaul.

Although that may not be enough to derail the CR’s passage in the House, it may dampen enthusiasm for bringing up in the chamber a Senate-passed omnibus containing a new Labor-HHS-Education bill.

Senate Democrats also could opt to simply add a few more anomalies to Rogers’ CR, while still keeping within the budget cap.

And the CR also blocks funding for some programs. Congress provided $12 million in fiscal 2012 for the Presidio Trust Fund , intended to be the last appropriations to help fund the park on San Francisco Bay that once was a military site. Without an anomaly, continuing fiscal 2012 appropriations through a CR would automatically have provided funds for this purpose.

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