March 12, 2013 UPDATE: Senate Prepares To Debate CR With DoD Budget

Senate Democrats released on Monday night a new government budget, which Pentagon planners eagerly are awaiting to help them manage the across-the-board “sequestration” cuts that started March 1…read the full story here.

Senate CR Expected Today

Senate Democrats plan to unveil a new government funding bill today that–like an alternative House-passed plan–factors in the unpopular “sequestration” budget reductions but gives the Pentagon some flexibility to manage the cuts.

Still, the fiscal year 2013 appropriations legislation Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) has crafted is expected to differ from the continuing resolution (CR) the GOP-led House passed March 6, with little support from Democrats.

The House plan is a CR funding most of the government until Sept. 30, at FY ’12 levels, that also includes full defense and military-construction appropriations bills. It would keep the government running after the current CR expires March 27, and factor in the $40 billion-plus in defense sequestration cuts, which were triggered on March 1 and are slated to continue until Sept. 30. Yet the new funding measure would shift around Pentagon funding and allow both reprogrammings and new program starts during that time.

Mikulski favors granting such budgeting leeway to the Pentagon and Veterans Administration in the rival Senate CR, but also wants to grant such flexibility to additional agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security. That lack of budgeting discretion for additional agencies was a major qualm House Democrats said they had with the measure their chamber passed.

“The content is too Spartan for us,” Mikulski said March 5 about the new House CR. “So we have to look at what does it mean to not only look at national security but also those domestic programs that are important to our economy.”

The Senate is expected to debate her proposal this week.

However, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned reporters March 7 that he will not accept a Senate bill that is vastly different from the House-passed one.

“If Senate Democrats try to load up this bill with extraneous provisions, partisan riders and budget gimmicks, we will be prepared to move a clean continuing resolution through the remainder of the fiscal year,” he said.

Still, House and Senate leaders have struck optimistic tones on agreeing to a final CR before the current one expires March 27. President Barack Obama is expect to sign the new measure, even though his Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said his administration is “deeply concerned” with the House version (Defense Daily, March 6).

The House CR includes a $518.1 billion base defense budget for FY ‘13, which is the same as the FY ’12 level and $2 billion more than the Pentagon requested. The bill includes $10.4 billion in additional operation and maintenance funding compared to the FY ’12 levels, which is offset with reductions of $4.2 billion to procurement and $2.5 billion to research and development funding.

This week also may yield more insight into the ongoing debate over whether and how to stop sequestration–the $1.2 trillion in decade-long defense and non-defense cuts that started March 1. Obama and many lawmakers had wanted to stop the cuts from starting, but Republicans and Democrats couldn’t agree on an alternative deficit-cutting plan. Some House Republicans, including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have suggested the sequestration cuts could stay.

The House Budget Committee this week is expected to unveil a budget resolution–a non-binding long-term funding blueprint–and a rival plan will also come from the Democrat-run Senate Budget Committee.

Obama is slated to travel to Capitol Hill this week for meetings with the House and Senate Republican and Democratic Caucuses.