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A stopgap spending bill unveiled Monday to keep the government operating through Sept. 30 would not undo sequestration, but it would give the Defense Department flexibility in how to make $46 billion in reductions.
The House version of the so-called continuing resolution, needed to keep the government operating beyond March 27, represents a bit of pragmatism as lawmakers come to realize they cannot reach a compromise on deficit reduction and spending priorities if they face one crisis deadline after another.
It also represents acceptance of the $86 billion in across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, ordered March 1 by President Obama, as a likely down payment on what further spending cuts ultimately are made.
The bill, HR 933, still requires the $46 billion sequestration cut this year, but it gives DoD more leeway to move money from account to account. It is scheduled to pass the House of Representatives this week; the Senate is working on its own version of the bill that could make additional adjustments in non-defense programs, which would require lawmakers to reach a compromise to avoid a government shutdown when the current continuing resolution expires in late March.
Agreement on a funding bill for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1 does not mean lawmakers are done fighting, just that they're preparing for their next and larger battle over the 2014 budget, which the Obama administration expects to send to Congress on March 24.
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the House Appropriations Committee chairman, said the bill he has introduced "will avoid a government shutdown on March 27, prioritize DoD and veterans programs, and allow the Pentagon some leeway to do its best with the funding it has."
"It is clear that this nation is facing some very hard choices, and it is up to Congress to pay the way for our financial future," Rogers said in a statement. "But right now, we must act quickly and try to make the most of a difficult situation."
The bill includes $518.1 billion in the base defense budget, roughly equal to the fiscal 2012 budget, plus $87.2 billion for overseas contingencies. The total is subject to the $46 billion sequestration cut.
Along with routine funding and improved transfer authority, the bill prepared by Rogers includes a final end to funding for the stop-loss allowance created by Congress to compensate service members whose military service was involuntarily extended so they could serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, and a prohibition against DoD charging any enrollment fee for Medicare-eligible retirees in the Tricare for Life program.
Pentagon health care officials have proposed a new $100 annual enrollment fee for Tricare for Life, but Congress has balked at the idea.