A March 1 meeting at the White House between the president and congressional leaders on how to undo $85 billion in budget cuts taking effect the same day kicks off a new month of budget politics.
Before the current spending bill funding the federal government expires on March 27, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) says he foresees a deal that will act on the across-the-board spending cuts and keep the government running.
But getting there will not be easy.
Next week, the House is expected to consider a bill proposed by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, that would keep the government running at fiscal 2012 levels but would include new fiscal 2013 spending levels for defense, military construction and veterans. That bill assumes that sequestration will be in effect. Amending it to include a deal to end the across-the-board cuts will take work.
But the details of the spending bill itself would be fodder for significant debate, including over a controversial missile defense system that members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have tried to kill for the past two years.
Larsen says Rogers’s bill may include $380 million to fund’s (Meads). The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 directed the Pentagon to stop using any money for the missile defense system being developed by the U.S., Italy and Germany. The Pentagon has sought to fund the system through the end of fiscal 2013, to abide by an agreement made with its international partners.
Larsen was one of eight lawmakers who wrote to the Pentagon’s budget chief in February to remind him of the law, after the Meads general manager authorized $25 million in funding for the system’s development. “Under current law, fiscal year 2012 funds for the Meads system are final obligations for the program,” says the letter, also signed by Reps. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Michael Turner (R-Ohio), Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Scott Peters (D-Calif.).
When it comes to the continuing resolution, Larsen says he will be telling members of the spending committee why he signed the letter. “If we’re looking for a quick $380-400 million to cut, this is it,” he says.
Ultimately, Larsen says that the majority of Congress wants to avoid a government shutdown. “But we’re going to take a few weeks to work through that,” he says.