By Tila Neguse
Reflecting on Monday’s release of the FY2014 Omnibus spending bill, I cannot help remembering a meeting I had in August 2013 with senior Senate majority staff on the Appropriations Committee. The budget forecast during this time was very dim. The House and Senate had passed opposing budget resolutions that were $91 billion apart, the continuing resolution was set to expire in less than a month, and we were steadily approaching the infamous 16 day government shutdown in October. Needless to say, when I was told by staff that the Senate would pursue moving forward with a 12 bill omnibus, I was more than skeptical. Now four months later, the partisan gridlock on the budget that seemed to paralyze Congress for over 4 years seems to have fractured for a moment.
The first sign was the Murray-Ryan budget deal passed on December 10, 2013. The deal set the overall funding level for discretionary programs at $1.012 trillion for FY2014 and $1.014 trillion in FY2015. This number was somewhere in the middle between the House and Senate’s funding requests, reconciling that earlier $91 billion difference that seemed at first impossible to breach.
The over 1,000 page omnibus bill provides spending directions line-by-line for all discretionary programs, including programs like Head Start, Meals on Wheels, and, of course, Pentagon spending. The Pentagon eats up about half of the $1.012 trillion bill, with the rest of the monies split amongst the 11 other agencies. For years, FCNL has been advocating for a budget deal that makes BIG cuts to the Pentagon. The bill provides $486.9 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, which is relatively the same as the amount of funding the Pentagon received post sequester in FY 2013. However, this number is much less than the $527 billion dollars that the Pentagon requested. The budget battles over sequestration shed light on a new era for not only the Pentagon but also the defense industry. The endless cries of defense hawks in Congress and defense industry lobbyists to spare the Pentagon from any cuts fell on deaf ears. While Pentagon spending has not come down nearly as much as it should, especially in a post-war drawdown, the monumental precedent to cut Pentagon spending has been set. This year, the Pentagon budget is constrained and not on a soaring trajectory as it has been over the last decade.
Months ago this didn’t seem possible but now that Appropriators have released the 2014 Omnibus spending measure, debate will begin in the House. Because the current Continuing Resolution (CR) funding the government expires on January 15, Congress will pass a three day continuing resolution to give them time to vote on the omnibus. It must clear the House and Senate before Congress goes on recess next week.