House GOP unveils bill to avoid shutdown, lessen cuts for defense programs

Posted at 7:17 AM, Mar 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-05 07:17:43-05

 WASHINGTON (CNN) – House Republicans unveiled a government spending bill on Monday that keeps federal agencies funded through the end of September and attempts to remove the specter of a government shutdown.

The GOP bill doesn’t replace the forced spending cuts, but lessens the pain for the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

These departments, which Republicans traditionally protect in budget fights, would not get extra money or escape the reductions included in so-called “sequester,” but under the proposal drafted by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, they could shift money around to prioritize specific programs.

For example, the House “continuing resolution” or “CR” cuts roughly $10 billion from procurement and other areas to beef up the Defense Department’s “operations and maintenance” account to ensure funding of military readiness and training programs.

In addition to including provisions for defense programs, the bill protects some other agencies from some of the across-the-board budget cuts that took effect on Friday.

It keeps FBI and border security staffing at current levels. And in response to the deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last September, the Republican measure increases funding for embassy security by $2 billion. It also includes increased money for federal prisons and weather satellite launches.

Federal agencies will run out of money on March 27 and the measure introduced Monday keeps funding for most federal programs at last year’s spending levels that were established in the 2011 debt deal, known as the Budget Control Act.

But because it factors in reductions from the forced spending cuts, the actual level of federal spending will drop below a trillion, to $982 billion.

“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,” Rogers said in a written statement.

The measure could face resistance by Senate Democrats.

Aides in both parties said they expect Democrats will try to amend the House bill to soften the impact of the spending cuts on some domestic programs.

While Democrats wouldn’t say which programs their party would include, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, spelled out her priorities in a CNN interview on Friday.

“We need to have programs in there that meet compelling human need: housing, education, health care. But we also have to look at transportation. We want to look at those items that help generate jobs, like transportation, and solve America’s infrastructure problems,” she said.

One top Republican aide cautioned that if Democrats move beyond non-controversial items – such as funding for the Homeland Security Department – they could risk disrupting swift passage of the government funding bill.

Democrats in the House also expressed concerns.

Rep Nita Lowey, D-New York, the top Democrat on the House spending panel, said she supported the military spending plans, but she was disappointed the bill “would lock most of the federal government into outdated plans and spending levels.”

Lowey argued that non-defense agencies will be hurt by the bill and urged Senate Democrats to work on a spending bill that protects those programs.

“It has an adverse effect on federal efforts to improve schools, health care, and homeland security; protect the environment; and create jobs and grow the economy. I am hopeful the Senate will consider and pass a 2013 funding package that better reflects the needs and priorities of the American people,” Lowey said in a written statement.

Before the legislation was released on Monday, chief White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to say whether the administration would support the House GOP bill, saying the White House wanted to “see something that is practical and nonpolitical, and consistent with the levels established in the Budget Control Act that both parties agreed to overwhelmingly.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also wouldn’t say if House Democrats would support the bill when asked about it on Friday, but said it “will be curious to me if at that level the Republicans can produce the votes to pass it. But certainly we don’t want to have a shutdown of government.”

It’s also unclear whether House GOP conservatives would go along with the proposal.

During recent votes on stopgap spending measures, many Republicans have pushed for greater spending cuts or wanted to add restrictions on how funding could be used for government programs.

Kansas Republican Rep Tim Huelskamp is again pushing to add language to the bill that would prevent federal agencies from using any of their money to implement the new health care law.

But GOP leaders know that including such a provision would be a non-starter for congressional Democrats and the White House and would only increase talks of a government shutdown.

The new spending bill also extends the pay freeze in effect for federal employees, as well as Members of Congress. The Obama administration has urged that federal workers receive a small salary increase.

The House is expected to begin debate on the spending bill on Wednesday and vote on it on Thursday.