Inside (the Beltway) Scoop
Created by on 06/21/2013

By Jennifer Zeitzer
Bills Funding Agriculture and Veterans Research Advance; Veto Threat Clouds Appropriations Outlook; Agencies Begin Preparing Fiscal Year 2015 Budgets
The fiscal year (FY) 2014 appropriations process took a few more steps forward over the last couple of weeks as the House continued work on the annual spending measures. On June 13, the House Appropriations Committee passed the Agriculture bill, providing $290.6 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). This represents a 5.5 percent increase above the FY 2013 level. In addition, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved a draft bill allocating $4.653 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. This is 7.3 percent above the estimated FY 2013 enacted level, but below the Administration’s request of $5 billion. It is unclear when this bill will move to the full Committee.  Chairman Frelinghuysen and Ranking Member Kaptur mentioned the role of the DOE in supporting applied research in their opening statements.
On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate began work on the FY 2014 spending bills as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confirmed the rumors that Republicans will oppose Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski’s (D-MD) plan to set the overall FY 2014 funding level at $1.058 trillion. McConnell told reporters that he and his colleagues will vote against the Senate 302(b) allocations (individual subcommittee spending limits) when those are considered on June 20. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pledged that Democrats will get all 12 bills “at least through the subcommittee level.”
On June 18, the Military-Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) and Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees approved the first two of the Senate’s FY 2014 funding bills. The Senate Military Construction-VA bill provided $586 million for the Medical and Prosthetic Research Program, slightly less than one percent above the FY 2013 enacted leveland equal to President Obama’s FY 2014 request. A summary of the bill and a (audio only) webcast of the mark-up are available on the Senate Appropriations Committee website. Senate Military-Construction/VA Subcommittee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) announced that full Appropriations Committee consideration of the bill will take place on June 20, as previously scheduled.
Although Subcommittee Chairman Johnson noted in his opening statement that the bill was developed in a bipartisan effort with ranking member Mark Kirk (R-IL), comments made during the mark-up indicate that not all of the Committee members support the legislation. When the bill was approved by the Subcommittee, Senators Dan Coats (R-IN) and Mike Johanns (R-NE) asked that their votes be recorded as “no.” Senator Coats expressed concern that the $1.058 trillion spending total exceeds the amount allowed under the sequestration provisions of the Budget Control Act. Echoing his colleague’s comments, Senator Johanns said that the Senate limit violates current law and circumvents Congress’s attempts to bring spending under control.
The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee bill provided $318 million for AFRI in FY 2014, $42.5 million above the FY 2013 level and $28 million more than the House recommendation. A full Committee mark-up of the Senate agriculture bill will also take place on June 20. The audio of the Senate Agriculture mark- up is available on the Appropriations Committee website.
Press reports indicate that Subcommittee consideration of the Senate Energy and Water spending bill may take place on June 25, followed by a full Committee vote on June 27. Debate on the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services measure that funds the National Institutes of Health is expected the week of July 8. Funding for the National Science Foundation will be discussed the week of July 15, when the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science bill is scheduled to be marked-up.
Despite the current progress, the more than $90 billion difference between the House and Senate overall spending levels virtually guarantees that Congress will not meet the September 30 deadline to complete action on all of the FY 2014 spending bills. Adding to the already tense environment, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) in early June stating that the president’s advisors would recommend vetoes of any of the appropriations bills “that implement the House Republican budget framework.” The SAP also noted that the House’s $967 billion total spending level shortchanges domestic spending priorities. Passage of at least one short term “continuing resolution” is likely in mid-late September.
In related news, federal agencies are beginning to prepare FY 2015 budgets under the direction of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which sent a memo in late May to the heads of all departments and agencies providing guidance on developing FY 2015 spending requests. The memo indicated that the FY 2015 budget should reduce spending on lower priority programs in order to make room for effective investments in areas critical to economic growth, including innovation, infrastructure, and research and development. Acknowledging “the challenges that agencies face in continuing to provide vital services and protect mission in an environment of sequestration,” OMB instructed agencies to “bring their overall submission to a level that is ten percent below the net discretionary total” provided in the Obama FY 2014 budget request. The memo also reiterated that President Obama will continue to work with Congress to develop a plan to replace sequestration with a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes sensible entitlement reforms and additional revenue from tax reform.