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House and Senate Defense appropriators have been closely holding a secret, at the core of which lies the fate of hundreds of Pentagon programs facing billions of dollars in reductions from fiscal 2014 plans.
With the allocations for all 12 Appropriations subcommittees set to be revealed as early as this week, the Defense panels will soon reveal how they plan to cut their oversized spending bills to match the spending cap set by last month’s budget resolution (H J Res 59).
Working in secret, appropriators have been racing to finalize a compromise $1.012 trillion omnibus before the government runs out of money Jan. 15. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said Tuesday that the panels have agreed on the compromise Defense and Military Construction-VA spending measures, but they won’t meet their goal of finalizing an overall deal and sharing it with Senate and House leaders by Wednesday.
Some of the tradeoffs will be painful for lawmakers. Appropriators need to reduce total defense-related spending by about $25.4 billion from the levels in House-passed bills, and $31.7 billion from the levels in the companion Senate measures.
Slightly less than 95 percent of the $520.5 billion in defense spending for fiscal 2014, resides with the Defense subcommittees, or somewhere in the neighborhood of $490 billion, according to senior congressional aides. While an enormous amount of money by any standard, that figure would still be $22 billion less than the House voted for the defense spending bill (HR 2397) earlier this year.
“I know our defense guys were not happy,” a House GOP lawmaker said of the defense spending reductions. “It’s tough on Rodney [Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., the new chairman of the Defense Appropriations panel] to walk into this situation. It was unavoidable. If you were to keep the overall number low, you are going to have to do some things.”
The lawmaker, who wished to remain anonymous because of a gag order placed on lawmakers and staffers as they work through the complex package, noted that leaders plan to mount a “blitzkrieg” to push the bill through while limiting opposition from lawmakers and lobbyists alike.
Most of the work is complete and there were “a lot of negotiations over the holidays, none of the cardinals know much beyond their own top line and issues in their field,” the lawmaker said. “The minute it spills beyond the Appropriations committee, it makes problems within the conference.”‘Real Money’
Nowhere is the pressure greater than in Defense, which touches virtually every congressional district either directly or indirectly.
After running drills for months, panel staff are expected to use a scalpel, rather than an ax, to find the reductions needed.
One senior House aide and a senior Senate Appropriations aide suggested the easiest place to find reductions would be in operations and maintenance accounts.