House Republicans have released their proposed legislation to fund the government after existing appropriations expire on March 27 that appears designed to blunt the impact of sequestration on GOP priorities as much as possible, without provoking a backlash from Democrats and setting off a government shutdown fight.
The bill would extend existing funding levels for most government agencies but create new appropriations measures for the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs.
Sequestration would apply to the entire funding package, but GOP appropriators also want to provide the military some flexibility to determine where cuts should apply.
Democratic aides are still reviewing the package, though they insist they will demand equal treatment for both defense and non-defense appropriations.
“Although the proposal includes FY2013 Appropriations bills for Defense and Military Construction-VA — which enjoy broad bipartisan support — it is extremely disappointing that the proposal would fund the remainder of the federal government’s critical services and investments for the American people under FY2012 plans and spending levels, enacted 15-18 months ago,” complained House Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (D-NY) in an official statement. “Governing by continuing resolution limits the ability of federal departments and agencies to respond to changing circumstances, implement laws enacted by Congress, eliminate unnecessary spending, and budget responsibly.”
If the measure clears the House this week, Senate Democrats could thus attempt to replace the “continuing resolution” portion of the spending bill with full appropriations measures for government agencies, all of which would still be subject to sequestration.
But that would require acquiescence from House and Senate Republicans, and GOP leaders will face resistance from some rank and file members who oppose softening sequestration, or handing greater discretion over its cuts to the Obama administration.
The bill also includes new exemptions for a handful of key domestic priorities Republicans support, which will result in deeper cuts elsewhere. These include provisions allowing Customs and Border Protection and the FBI to maintain current staffing levels; an increase in embassy security funding and funding to ensure “the safe and secure operation of Federal Prisons;” and a provision extending a pay freeze for federal employees, including for members of Congress, which Obama wants to lift.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.