Washington Weekly – March 7, 2014

March 7, 2014

The House passed legislation making Ukraine eligible for US loan guarantees, delaying the implementation of penalty fees for Obamacare, limiting environmental reviews for construction projects, prohibiting the FEMA Director from raising flood insurance rates, and limiting the EPA Administrator from establishing performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired electric utilities. The Senate completed work on several nominations, but rejected President Obama’s nominee to be assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The Senate also began consideration of two bills on sexual assault in the military and a bill to impose new educational, health and safety standards on child care facilities that receive federal funding.

FY2015 Budget

The White House released its  $1.014 trillion FY15 budget request (compared to $1.012T in FY14) on Tuesday and defended the request in several hearings on Capitol Hill this week. The information released this week by the Administration included proposals, summary tables, agency-level information and the detailed appendix. The budget’s historical tables and analytical perspectives will be released next week.

The budget adheres to the discretionary spending levels included in the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) (PL 113-67) Congress passed in December, but the administration also proposes an additional $56 billion in discretionary spending split evenly between defense and non-defense programs. This Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative would fund investments aimed at biomedical research, clean energy programs, preschool programs, infrastructure, national parks, veterans’ hospitals, modernization of defense weapons systems, restoration of cuts to readiness accounts, improvement of military facilities, etc. House and Senate Appropriations Chairs, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said that their committees would adhere to the top line funding level set in the BBA effectively nullifying any FY15 supplemental funding for the President’s initiative.

The President’s budget also included a four-year transportation bill, immigration overhaul, and a continued press for a corporate tax overhaul netting $650 billion in new revenues. And the FY15 plan recommends cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid by $402 billion over the next 10 years.

Defense

The FY15 defense budget request includes a request of $495.6 billion for base defense programs, which is 0.1% or $400 million less than the enacted FY14 appropriation and is consistent with the current budget caps. The Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative requests an additional $26 billion in FY15 defense spending to address significant readiness and modernization challenges. The budget also requests an additional $115 billion in FY16 to F19 to meet defense requirements. However, there is some confusion over what the additional $115 billion would go towards. DOD officials contradicted their statements that the additional funding would go towards bolstering manpower and meeting a statutory requirement for 11 aircraft carrier battle groups. Even with the additional $115 billion, DOD would not be able to meet this requirement.

The FY15 Defense budget includes $167.2B for military pay and benefits (including health care and retirement benefits); $77B for civilian pay and benefits; $154.3B for procurement, RDT&E, and new facilities construction; and $97.1B for other operating costs. The biggest savings in this year’s budget come from personnel, particularly the Army, which will be pared back to its smallest size in 74 years. The budget includes $199B for Operations and Maintenance ($4B over FY14), $91B for Procurement (down $94B from FY14); and a 1% increase in basic pay, a 1.5% increase in housing allowances, and a 3.4% increase in subsistence allowances.

As for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, the department included a $79.4B placeholder as the administration is still determining its post-2014 presence in Afghanistan and doesn’t know whether any troops will remain there after this year. This is equal to last year’s request. DOD Comptroller Robert Hale said that the final OCO request will be smaller than the placeholder and will be used to pay for US troops in Afghanistan plus funding to reset equipment and support the Afghan National Security Forces.

DOD also released the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which lays out the military’s long-term strategy and anticipated threats on Tuesday. The QDR outlines DOD’s top strategic priorities: defending the homeland against all threats; building security globally by projecting U.S. influence and deterring aggression; and, remaining prepared to win decisively against any adversary should deterrence fail. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) immediately rejected the QDR saying that he will introduce legislation requiring the Pentagon to rewrite and resubmit the document.

Homeland Security

The President requested $38.2B in non-disaster discretionary funds for the Department of Homeland Security in FY15. This is 2.8% less than last year. With regards to cybersecurity the FY15 DHS budget includes a total of $1.25 billion, with $549M to support continued implementation of the Einstein managed security service; $66M for the National Protection and Programs Directorate (a $10M increase over FY14); and $680M for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (an increase of $29M over FY14). Cybersecurity funding requested is for resources to detect malicious traffic that targets civilian government networks; to support cyber and cyber-enabled investigations carried out by ICE and the Secret Service in areas such as cyber economic crime, identity theft, theft of export controlled data, and child exploitation; and to manage computer forensics programs. The DHS FY15 budget also includes funding for 4,000 additional Customs and Border Protection officers, $1 billion in assistance to state and local governments for firefighters and emergency-management personnel and $10 million to help immigrants on the path to citizenship.

FY15 Appropriations

As a reminder, the deadlines for members of Congress to submit their programmatic and language requests for the FY15 appropriations process are as follows:

House Appropriations Subcommittee Deadline
Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies Mar. 31
Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Mar. 31
Defense Apr. 2
Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Apr. 2
Financial Services and General Government Apr. 2
Homeland Security Mar. 31
Interior Apr. 4
Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies Apr. 4
Legislative Branch Mar. 17
Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Mar. 17
State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Apr. 4
Transportation, HUD, and Related Agencies Apr. 2

Political Updates

DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson announced President Obama’s intent to nominate Vice Admiral Paul F. Zukunft as the 25th Commandant of the US Coast Guard. Zukunft is a 37-year veteran of the Coast Guard whose experience includes coordinating federal response to the Deepwater Horizon spill. He currently commands the US Coast Guard Pacific Area.

Primaries were held in Texas this week and Sen. John Cornyn won easily defeating conservative Rep. Steve Stockman. Cornyn faces no serious Democratic challenger in his bid for a third term. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), who at 90 years old is the oldest sitting member of the House of Representatives in history, was forced into a run-off contest in the primary. Hall will face off with former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe, who is 48, in the fight to represent the northeast Texas 4th District. The primary run-off contest is set for May 27.

Next Week

In addition to considering a resolution expressing support for the people of Ukraine, the House will consider legislation requiring the Attorney General to report to Congress when federal officers refrain from enforcing laws, authorizing Congress to pursue civil action against the Executive Branch for not executing laws, placing prohibitions on the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture with respect to privately held water rights, and repealing the Medicare sustainable growth rate, otherwise known as the “Doc Fix” bill. The Senate will vote on Sen. McCaskill’s sexual assault in the military bill and resume consideration of the child care block grants legislation.

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