Now that $85 billion in government budget cuts are taking effect, the real debate over the fiscal 2013 budget is just beginning.
The government is running under a stop-gap spending measure that provides the same level of funding as last year. It expires on March 27. So lawmakers now have less than a month to prevent a government shutdown.
Next week, the House is expected to consider a bill proposed by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which would keep the government running at fiscal 2012 levels but would include new fiscal 2013 spending levels for defense, military construction and veterans. The bill assumes that sequestration will be in effect.
Rogers says he has broad support from Republicans in the House, but the picture among Democrats and in the Senate remains unclear.
Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) says he foresees a fiscal 2013 spending deal that will act on the across-the-board spending cuts and keep the government running past the March 27 deadline. But amending the spending bill to include a deal to end the across-the-board cuts will take work.
A deal on ending sequestration still seems miles off, as a meeting at the White House on March 1 ended in a continued stalemate. Plus, the details of the spending bill itself would be fodder for significant debate. That includes a long-running dispute 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 Lockheed Martin ’s Medium Extended Air Defense System (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 Pentagon budget chief Robert Hale in February to remind him of the recently passed 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.