By Jessie Calkins
Fiscal Year 2014 started on October 1, 2013 when a 16-day government shutdown was triggered because Congress had failed to pass spending appropriations to fund government activities by the deadline. The agreement that reopened the government included a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep funding federal programs and activities at the same levels as the previous fiscal year until January 15, 2014.
With this new deadline and possible automatic cuts known as sequestration looming, Congress worked out a deal in December to raise the budget caps set in 2011 (and with these caps raised, avoid triggering automatic sequestration cuts) for both defense and non-defense programs. The last piece of the puzzle, or more precisely the entire center of the puzzle, is to actually appropriate funds for programs and activities for the rest of FY 2014.
The federal budget is organized in different accounts, with 12 different subcommittees in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Each subcommittee works on its own standalone bill to fund a set of activities – such as the Defense Appropriations bill or the Agriculture Appropriations bill. Often times these bills ultimately are packaged together in an “omnibus” bill to accelerate the process and complete all of the required appropriations and fund operations of the government. This time, for example the Appropriations Committee has put together one such omnibus bill, to meet the January 15 deadline.
The 1.1 trillion Omnibus Appropriation bill for FY 2014 was released to the public on Monday night, January 13, and the chairs of the Appropriation Committees, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), expect it to be brought to the floor for votes later this week. To have time to “cross the T’s and dot the I’s”, Congress passed a (very) short term CR to keep the government open a few days past the January 15th deadline.
What’s in the bill for the Pentagon?
The Pentagon’s base budget is expected to drop to $487.4 billion — $24 billion below what the House approved last July and about $20 billion above what was threatened by another round of sequestration this month before the caps were raised. This would keep the base budget at roughly 2013 spending levels
$85.2 billion in overseas contingency operations (OCO), or war spending, funds. This is $5 billion higher than both President Obama’s request and the approved amount out of the House (that voted down on an amendment that specifically added money to this account in an earlier bill in a bipartisan effort).
Why this matters?
The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account is not subject to the budget caps set by either the Budget Control Act of 2011 that introduced sequestration, or the new December 2013 budget deal that altered the budget cap numbers for the next two years. This “plus-up” of funds in OCO shows that the Pentagon is reorganizing programs to be paid out of an account not subject to the budget caps or to adequate scrutiny. There is no equivalent account on the non-defense side to hide money from budget caps.