The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved their spending allocations, known as 302(b) allocations, along party lines (16-14) at the full committee markup of the FY15 Military Construction-VA and Agriculture spending bills. The allocations adhere to the overall $1.014 trillion discretionary top line set as part of the bipartisan budget deal in December.
During the markup, the committee’s Republicans criticized Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) for relying too heavily on budget “gimmicks,” including making changes to mandatory programs and utilizing a non-capped war spending account, to make the numbers work.
Mikulski’s plan would cover the $4.3 billion in previously unexpected cuts that stem from an accounting disparity between the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) related to government earnings from Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages by reducing the State-Foreign Operations subcommittee allocation and moving $4.3 billion of its funds to the Overseas Contingency Operations account, a war account not subject to the same tight budget caps. Republican Committee members are not happy with the idea of using OCO funds to shield domestic programs from the cut. To address the same shortfall, the House reduced funding for the THUD bill.
Senate appropriators advanced the FY15 Agriculture spending bill, subject to amendments, in an en bloc voice vote Thursday. The bill proposes $2.588 billion for the Food and Drug Administration, which is $36 million above FY14. The agency would receive $23 million to continue implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (P.L. 111-353).
The Senate Appropriations bill would provide $20.6 billion in discretionary funds for programs at the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration. Discretionary funding is $90 million below the FY14 enacted level, but $228 million above the budget request, according to the subcommittee.
The Appropriations Committee still has to debate an amendment that delays the next round of school meal requirements that would require providers to serve foods with lower sodium levels and 100 percent whole-grain products.
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved its FY15 spending bill on Tuesday with language that would require the Agriculture Department to establish a waiver process for school meal providers who can show economic hardship because of the rules.
Thursday, the Senate Military Construction-Veterans Affairs panel advanced, 30-0, the draft FY15 spending bill that would provide $71.5 billion in discretionary funds, a $1.8 billion decrease from the 2014 enacted level, for the VA and military construction accounts of the Defense Department.
All told, VA discretionary and mandatory funding would total $158.6 billion, which is $10.7 billion more than FY14. The bill’s $93.5 billion in mandatory funding is equal to the president’s request and $8.8 billion above the FY14 enacted level.
Responding to the VA medical care concerns, appropriators adopted by voice vote an amendment by Jerry Moran, (R-KS) that would give the VA secretary the authority to discharge or remove employees from the Senior Executive Service if the secretary believes it is warranted. Similar legislation (H.R. 4031) passed the House 390-33 on Wednesday.
Funding for military construction in the bill would meet the administration’s request of $6.6 billion, which is a steep $3.2 billion cut from the $9.8 billion enacted in FY14. The allocation includes $4.3 billion for military construction projects as well as $1.2 billion for military family housing. The measure would provide $380 million for the Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure fund. The allocation is $110 million above the president’s request in order to expedite environmental cleanup of former BRAC locations.
The House Appropriations Committee advanced the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development spending bill 28-21 on Thursday, making it the fourth spending measure to be marked up by the full House Appropriations Committee. The measure would provide $52 billion in discretionary spending for the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments, which is $1.2 billion, or 2.4 percent, higher than FY14.
The bill is expected on the House floor next month. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark-up their version of the bill on June 5.
The House on Thursday passed its FY15 defense authorization bill (H.R. 4435) by 325-98 after disposing of 169 amendments, debating all proposals Wednesday night and holding a rapid-fire vote session Thursday morning before final passage.
The bill adheres to the discretionary top-line figure established by December budget law (P.L. 113-67), but largely avoids controversial issues such as an additional round of base closures, prosecution of sexual assaults in the military, illegal immigrants serving in the armed forces, overhauling military compensation and retirement of weapons systems.
The measure would authorize $592.9 billion for discretionary Pentagon and Defense-related programs in FY15, $2.7 billion less than the president’s request, including $79.4 billion to support overseas contingency operations, including the war in Afghanistan. The bill does not, however, specify where the overseas contingency funds are to be spent because the administration has yet to formally submit a detailed budget request for the account to Congress.
Later Thursday afternoon, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved its FY15 defense authorization bill (S. 2289). Now that the House and the Senate committee have acted on the authorization bill comes the most time-consuming part of the process, waiting for it to come to the Senate floor.
Senators on Thursday voted 91-7 to clear a conference report that would authorize funds for dozens of waterway and environmental projects, sending the measure to the President’s desk for signature.
The conference report on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act or WRRDA (H.R. 3080) would authorize spending on 34 port, inland waterway and environmental restoration projects. The measure also introduces an authorization process that retains congressional authority over project approvals without using earmarks.
The measure, which the House backed 412-4 on Tuesday, would authorize projects that result in federal spending of $5.4 billion through fiscal 2019 and $12.3 billion over the next decade, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. The bill would deauthorize $18 billion in old projects considered obsolete.
The legislation also would change how local sponsors seek federal support for their projects. They would no longer request earmarks directly from lawmakers, as was the case with the 2007 authorization (P.L. 110-114). Instead, they would present projects to their regional Corps of Engineers post for review. After positively reviewing a project, the corps would submit annual reports to Congress, which will hold hearings on the projects.
Lawmakers and industry groups have described it as a “jobs bill” both for the construction work it would generate and the trade competitiveness it could bring.
Next week in Congress, the Senate will be in recess while the House remains in session.
The full House is expected to take up a two-year intelligence authorization (H.R. 4681) next week, which was advanced by the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. The bill would authorize classified funding levels for U.S. intelligence agencies for FY14 and FY15 and includes measures designed to mitigate the risk of information leaks like those by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security will mark-up their FY15 spending bill next Wednesday. The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee will reportedly markup their FY15 bill on June 10th. The full Appropriations Committee would also take up the bill the same week.