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Inside (the Beltway) Scoop
Created by lgreen on 12/19/2013

By Jennifer Zeitzer

Congress Passes Bipartisan Budget Agreement; Appropriators Begin Negotiating Final Fiscal Year 2014 Funding Levels; Farm Programs Receive 30-Day Extension

On December 11, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) announced that they had reached a bipartisan budget agreement, an accomplishment that even their own congressional colleagues were not sure was possible. Titled the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2013, the Ryan-Murray proposal (1) resolves a months-long dispute over the top-line spending level for fiscal year (FY) 2014, (2) establishes the FY 2015 funding cap, and (3) cancels $63 billion in sequestration cuts over two years, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs. The sequestration relief is offset by other savings and cuts, as well as non-tax revenue like increased airline security fees and adjustments to federal employee and military pensions. FASEB issued a press release this week in support of the BBA and congratulated Chairman Ryan and Chairwoman Murray for their efforts.

The House of Representatives passed the BBA the following day by a very bipartisan vote of 332-94 (169 Republicans and 163 Democrats in favor of the Act; 62 Republicans and 32 Democrats against it). It was adopted as an amendment to H J Res 59 – the current continuing resolution (CR). Senate approval of the BBA came via a 64 to 36 vote (55 Democrats and nine Republicans supported it) on December 18 and the White House released a Statement of Administration Support stating that the President will sign the BBA.

Under the BBA, FY 2014 discretionary spending would increase to $1.012 trillion, rising to $1.014 trillion in FY 2015. The $1.012 trillion limit is approximately halfway between the $1.058 trillion level preferred by the Senate and the FY 2013 post-sequester rate ($967 billion) called for in the House Budget Resolution adopted in March. The spending level in the BBA also exceeds the $986 billion limit in the current CR, which expires on January 15, 2014. The non-defense discretionary portion of the total spending caps would increase as follows:

Non-Defense Discretionary Spending Caps

FY

Current Law

BBA of 2013 Level

2014

$469.4 billion

$491.8 billion

2015

$483.1 billion

$492.4 billion


Passage of the Ryan-Murray agreement now shifts the action to the Appropriations Committees, which have begun the process of writing a FY 2014 omnibus bill to fund the government through September 30, 2014. The first step will be approval of new 302(b) allocations for the 12 appropriations subcommittees that will determine how the $1.012 trillion will be allocated among the various agencies and programs. Although a formal Appropriations Conference Committee will not be appointed, members and staff will negotiate behind-the-scenes over the holidays to develop the spending bill. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and her House counterpart Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY) have already met to discuss how they plan to proceed and said that they are confident they can finish their deliberations by early January, avoiding the need for Congress to pass another CR.


The increase in the discretionary spending level to $1.012 trillion should make it possible for the appropriators to provide modest growth over the FY 2013 post-sequester funding level for the science agencies. FASEB issued an e-action alert on Tuesday urging the research community to contact their Senators and Representatives to make one final push for the highest possible FY 2014 spending levels for National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, the Veterans Medical and Prosthetic Research program, and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Although far from perfect, the Ryan-Murray agreement demonstrates that compromise is still possible on Capitol Hill and brings a welcomed end to a series of fiscally related failures that have paralyzed Washington for the last three years. The agreement also creates a new sense of optimism following a year in which Congress faced intense criticism for the 16-day government shutdown in October, historically low approval ratings, and a lack of meaningful legislative accomplishments.

Ryan and Murray's decision to go for a smaller deal focused on addressing short term problems leaves unresolved the much bigger disagreements over taxes, entitlements, and the debt ceiling. But many lawmakers are hoping that the momentum from the budget deal will carry over into 2014, allowing Congress to make progress on other high priority issues including immigration policy, a re-write of the tax code, and final passage of a bill reauthorizing farm and agriculture programs.

The farm bill under consideration would extend the AFRI program for five years. Although the House passed a 30-day extension of current law to provide more time to continue the ongoing negotiations, the Senate has not acted on the House proposal House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said he is optimistic that a final agreement could be reached in January.

Further legislative action on the budget and other issues will be delayed until lawmakers return from the holiday break. The House and Senate are scheduled to reconvene the first week in January.


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