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Senior House appropriator: Full DoD spending bill likely

Sep. 13, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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US Rep. Jim Moran said he believes that a long-term CR would feature a full 2014 defense spending measure. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — A senior House appropriator says a full 2014 defense appropriations likely will be the vehicle on which a government-wide spending measure will move through Congress next year.

The House as soon as next week could approve a temporary government-wide continuing resolution that, if also adopted by the Senate, would keep the Pentagon and other federal agencies open through Dec. 15.

The House’s two-and-a-half-month CR contains no full agency appropriations bills; it would merely fund all federal departments at 2013 levels. Pentagon officials, defense firms and congressional defense hawks warn a CR leaves the Defense Department unable to start new acquisition programs, fire up new production lines, negotiate multiyear contracts, among other limitations.

Congress would have to pass either another temporary CR by mid-December or take up a full-year continuing resolution. And there long have been speculation among congressional aides that a long-term government-funding bill would feature a full 2014 defense spending measure.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., a veteran House Appropriations Defense subcommittee member, says that’s his expectation.

“The CR is going to be very contentious. It’s a defense approps bill that’s going to have to carry it,” Moran said during a brief interview. “At some point there will be a full defense approps bill.

“By the spring, after we’ve resolved the debt ceiling, we’ll get a full defense appropriations bill,” Moran said. “I think we need one.”

Todd Harrison, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said Moran’s prediction “makes sense because in the past DoD has eventually gotten a regular appropriations bill even when the rest of government got a full year CR.”

“Passing an appropriations bill for DoD is critical because there are so many programs starting, ramping up, ramping down, and ending in any given year,” Harrison said. “Continuing at prior year levels means that the money is locked away in the wrong accounts and creates all kinds of inefficiencies.

“But even passing a defense appropriations bill doesn't address the 800-pound gorilla in the room known as sequestration,” Harrison said. “Whether we're on a CR or have an appropriations bill passed, by Jan 15, sequestration will go into effect for fiscal 2014, cutting indiscriminately across the budget. That is the big issue Congress needs to address.”

A House Appropriations Committee aide noted panel Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., opposes a full-year CR for most of the federal government.

If the House eventually moves a government-wide spending bill built around a full Pentagon appropriations bill, it would mirror the method used for fiscal 2013, when Congress — though late — approved a mini-omnibus appropriations bill.

That would require some prior negotiation between top members of the House and Senate Appropriations committee, as well as senior staffers.

That’s because there are some key differences between the 2014 defense appropriations bills the House has passed, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved.

The House-approved version includes about $512.5 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and around $82 billion for overseas operations. The base budget figure is about $3 billion less than the White House requested.

The Senate panel’s bill, which may never hit the upper chamber floor, calls for a $516.4 billion base DoD budget and a $77.8 billion war-funding section. The base section’s topline aligns with the Obama administration’s request, while the Overseas Contingency Operations portion would be $8 billion smaller than the White House’s request.

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