Posted by: arbeam | December 2, 2014

Senate, House Make ‘Significant Progress’ on Spending Bill as CR Expiration Date Looms

House and Senate appropriations committee staffers spent their Thanksgiving holiday weekend hard at work, negotiating a full appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015 to take the place of the continuing resolution currently funding the government at last year’s spending levels.

The bill being drafted would include compromise versions of all 12 pieces of legislation each committee must pass each year, each providing a line-by-line spending allowance for various federal departments and agencies.

With Republicans taking control of the Senate in January, there were questions as to whether lawmakers would pass an actual appropriations bill before the continuing resolution (CR) expires on Dec. 11, or if they’d pass a CR extension and wait until the next Congress is seated to vote on FY ’15 funding.

Matt Dennis, a spokesman for the Democratic side of the House Appropriations Committee, noted that “obviously any decision about what comes to the House floor will be made by Republican leadership,”

but he added that “talks are ongoing-we are making progress and there is still quite a bit remaining. It is still our intention to have a full 12-bill Omnibus rather than a CR.”

Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for the Republican side of the committee, said “the negotiators made significant progress” over the Thanksgiving holiday and “we expect to have it on the floor next week. Meetings will continue this week.”

Vince Morris, a spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee, agreed that the bill would likely be ready for floor debate and votes next week, saying that the “staff worked all during the work period and weekend and both sides are making headway.”

A vote next week leaves little room for error-the continuing resolution runs out on Dec. 11, and Congress expects to adjourn for the year on Dec. 12. Typically, the House and Senate would each mark up their own versions of the 12 appropriations bills in committee and bring them to the floor for debate, amendments and votes before coming together to agree on a compromise bill for final passage. In this case, the bills have not come to the Senate floor yet and therefore most Senators have not had a chance to weigh in on important spending issues. Because of the tight timeline, no amendments would be allowed-once the House and Senate committees finish their compromise bill, all representatives and senators would have a single vote to take it or leave it.

Both the House and Senate appropriators agreed on some significant changes to the Obama administration’s defense spending request. Key changes that both chambers approved include doubling the investment in the Iron Dome missile defense program with Israel, and insisting that the Navy keep its 11 aircraft carriers and airwings intact rather than skipping the USS George Washington’s (CVN-73) nuclear refueling to save money. The Senate appropriations bill provides money to keep the Air Force’s A-10 Warthog fleet flying for another year; the House appropriators originally voted to let the Air Force retire the fleet to save money, but a floor amendment reversed that decision and puts the final House bill in line with the Senate’s bill.

However, they also differed in some key areas, which will have to be hashed out this week. The House bill slows the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program to two ships in FY ’15 and two in ’16, but the Senate offered not only to give the Navy money for the three it wanted in FY ’15 but also to provide additional money for the last ship’s long-lead materials “to preserve block buy pricing.” The House trimmed several Navy shipbuilding programs, including the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and advance procurement for the Virginia-class attack submarines; the Senate rejected all those cuts. The House added for the Air Force to buy two additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, whereas the Senate cut $222 million. And both chambers showed support for keeping the EA-18G Growler production line open, contrary to the Navy’s plans, though the Senate provided $325 million more than the House. (Defense Daily, July 17).

In a separate effort, the House and Senate armed services committees are working out differences in their bills as well, hoping to come to an agreement before Dec. 12 lest they fail to pass a defense authorization bill for the first time in 53 years. Both committee chairmen-Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.)-are retiring at the end of the year and the bills carry their names, adding more impetus to sign the bill.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) listed “possible consideration of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act” in his agenda for this week, but there is no sign from either committee that the compromise bill is ready for consideration yet.

Defense Daily article by Megan Eckstein Dec 1 2014




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