The House passed a six-month spending bill that will keep the lights on in government agencies until March 2013. Democrats and Republicans made a bet that the next Congress will find more favorable terrain for them, and kicked any contentious spending issues into it. They may do the same on the fiscal cliff, but there’s not likely to be any action there until the lame duck session, when they’ll know the outcome of the elections. So the calculus could change there.
As for the continuing resolution, the vote was a bipartisan 329 to 91. There were more no votes on the Republican side, 70, than on the Democratic side, with 21 opposed. Far-right conservatives wanted to see less spending in the bill, but the rank-and-file mostly went along with it, including Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who returned to Washington for the vote. Republicans relented, and allowed the spending level to hit $1.047 trillion on the discretionary side, the target of the spending cap from the debt limit deal. The Democratic no votes were a mix of conservatives who agreed on the allegedly excessive level of spending, and liberals like Barbara Lee, John Conyers, Lynn Woolsey and Dennis Kucinich, who thought the bill cut too deeply.
The Senate will probably get to this bill next week, wrapping up the spending bills for this Congress before heading out to campaign until Election Day. That makes this year a far less fraught process than last year.
Because of the auto-pilot continuing resolution, defense actually wins big. Both chambers cut defense spending in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, but that won’t be reflected in the actual spending authorization through March.
The CR for the most part continues spending at the fiscal 2012 level, but based on an agreement among the House, the Senate and the White House, it contains an across-the-board increase of 0.6 percent. Overall discretionary spending is $26.6 billion less than this year. That’s primarily because of a $32 billion reduction in fiscal 2013 projected costs for Afghanistan and other overseas military-related operations.
The Defense Department so far appears to have done well. While it represents more than half of the country’s discretionary spending, the CR projects $519 billion for fiscal 2013 defense spending, a figure higher than amounts approved so far by the House or Senate.
There is also $6.4 billion in the bill for disaster relief, and given the increasing frequency of natural disasters it’s sure to get used. Federal employees still take a pay freeze in this bill, as their lack of raises stretches into its third year. Austerity has hit the federal workforce.
Meanwhile, defense may not get away so easy. The fiscal cliff includes the sequester, which would cut around $55 billion in defense programs this year. Republicans are desperate to avoid that. The House passed a party-line measure (223-196) to actually force the President to deliver a plan to avoid the defense sequester, which the Senate will summarily ignore. The fiscal cliff negotiations won’t start in earnest until the lame duck.