Budget bill sets spending for everything from military pensions to light bulbs

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Congress’ spending plan for the federal government touches almost every facet of American life, as it tackles big priorities such as health care, education and combating terrorism as well as smaller concerns such as the future of light bulbs.

The 1,582-page, $1.1 trillion bill goes line by line, listing how federal dollars will be spent between now and Sept. 30. It’s one of the few times in recent years that Congress has produced such a lengthy roster of priorities.

The House of Representatives could vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday, and the Senate is likely to vote later in the week. The White House said Tuesday it supports the bill, which was released late Monday night by the House and Senate appropriations committees.

The bill details discretionary funding, which Congress and the White House can control year by year. Much of the approximately $3.8 trillion federal budget includes entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which are on spending autopilot and do not need annual approval.

Painstaking compromises were needed to craft the bill. Most Democrats liked how it spends more than the $967 billion that was allowed by a 2011 budget deal.

Head Start, the early childhood education program, would get a big funding boost. Federal employees and military personnel would get a 1 percent pay raise.

Republicans lost their bid to dilute and defund the Affordable Care Act, the issue largely responsible for October’s partial government shutdown. But funding would be cut for the health care law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board. Branded a “death panel” by some Republicans, its mission is to recommend and in some cases decide changes in Medicare.

The measure is laden with policy edicts. Money could not be used to transfer detainees from Guantánamo Bay to the United States or its territories. No aid to Libya would be permitted until Secretary of State John Kerry guarantees that its government is cooperating in the investigation of the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi in 2012.

Back home, the bill would prevent flood insurance rate increases from taking effect, a measure applauded by Florida lawmakers even if its effect is limited and short-lived.

Also stymied is the federal government’s effort to cut down on wasted energy by phasing out incandescent light bulbs with new efficiency standards. Republicans have fought the move for years, saying consumers often have to pay more for alternatives such as compact fluorescent, LED and halogen bulbs. It’s questionable whether the GOP’s attempt to save incandescent bulbs can work, since companies have been phasing out production.

The legislation fills in the blanks created last month when Congress and the White House agreed on a two-year spending blueprint. That agreement is likely to prevent any government shutdowns until the next fiscal year ends in September 2015. Current government funding runs out Wednesday, though Congress is expected to give itself until Saturday to approve the new budget plan. Another appropriation will be needed for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Among the bill’s features:

– Defense. Pentagon spending remains flat, with $486.9 billion for core defense programs, about the same level as last year.

Included in the bill is $85.2 million for overseas operations, with most of it slated to go to the declining U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, $2 billion less than last year.

The bill was a triumph of sorts for defense, as it restores $22 billion in broad, forced cuts scheduled under the 2011 budget deal. The new plan also reinstates planned cuts in the future pension growth rates for veterans forced to retire by medical problems and for the survivors of slain war fighters.

The legislation also provides $182 million to prevent and prosecute sexual assaults in the military, including $25 million to expand counseling for victims.

– Foreign operations/State Department. The bill pledges “full funding” for embassy security, plus other money for upgrades of temporary missions. Included is a “prohibition on aid to Libya until the Secretary of State confirms Libyan cooperation in the Benghazi investigation.”

The bill allots $15.7 billion for operations costs for the State Department and related agencies, down $2.4 billion from last year.

It also provides $25 million above the amount requested “for embassy security costs relating to the protection of personnel and facilities.”

– Homeland Security. While the bill cuts $336 million from the department, it provides $10.6 billion, a $110 million increase, for the Customs and Border Protection agency. Some would go to enhancing identification of known and suspected terrorists before they enter the country, addressing an issue that arose after April’s Boston Marathon bombings.

About 2,000 Border Patrol agents and officers would be added at the nation’s busiest ports of entry. The manpower boost raises the agency to its highest operational force in history – 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 24,800 officers.

The bill also would spend more than President Barack Obama sought for combating human trafficking, child exploitation, cyber crime and drug smuggling. The Transportation Security Administration’s proposed $4.9 billion budget represents a $225 million cut from fiscal 2013. Included is a cap on full-time airport screening personnel of 46,000 at a time when air travel is booming, reflecting TSA’s shift to more risk-based passenger screening.

– Transportation. The bill includes no new funds for Obama’s signature high-speed rail program. But all of the $10.1 billion in passenger rail projects already under way, including one in California, “are moving full steam ahead,” said Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration.

However, the bill cuts nearly $100 million from Amtrak’s annual operating subsidy, to $340 million from $441 million in 2013. Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said the amount would meet the railroad's operating needs and there would be no service cuts.

The bill also provides the Department of Transportation $600 million for a discretionary grant program called TIGER, a $100 million increase. The program, created as part of the 2009 economic stimulus, has proved popular with mayors and governors who needed funds for smaller infrastructure projects, including transit, bridges and ports.

– Justice. Echoing past bills, the measure blocks any potential transfer of Guantánamo Bay detainees into U.S. prison facilities. The bill also prohibits the use of funds to build U.S. facilities that might house Guantánamo detainees in the future.

The bill includes modest increases for the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies and continues funding for a program that reimburses states such as California and Texas that incarcerate large numbers of immigrants who are in this country illegally.

– Foreign aid. The bill targets, or at least threatens to slash, foreign assistance to governments whose recent conduct has drawn U.S. rebukes. The bill withholds funds for Afghanistan until “certain conditions are met,” chiefly the signing of a bilateral security agreement that clarifies the status of U.S. troops that remain in the country.

The bill does green-light funding for Egypt, where the military is in charge after the overthrow last summer of the democratically elected Islamist president. The interim government must take steps such as upholding the peace treaty with Israel and “meeting milestones Egyptians have set for their political transition.”

No words were minced when it came to the Palestinian Authority: “The legislation stops economic assistance” to the Palestinians if they obtain membership to the United Nations or its agencies without an agreement with Israel. The bill also puts new restrictions on aid if the Palestinians pursue action related to Israel’s human rights abuses via the International Criminal Court.

– Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. Funding is $156.8 billion, down $100 million from last year. The Employment Training Administration is cut half a billion dollars, but Veterans Employment and Training Service will get $269.5 million, up $5 million from 2013.

The Education Department would get $70.6 billion, down $739 million from last year. But Head Start would get $8.6 billion, up $612 million. Title I programming, which provides money for reading and math education, would receive a $629 million increase to $14.4 billion. Higher education won’t see much change. The maximum Pell Grant award, which helps lower-income students attend college, would increase to $5,730 from the current $5,645.

The bill also bans federal abortion funding except in cases of rape, incest or endangerment of the life of the mother. It also bans creating embryos for research purposes, or federal funding of research in which embryos are destroyed.

– Agriculture. The department’s budget is designed to help boost exports from America’s farms and also to help farmers stave off the diseases and pests than can threaten their crops.

There’s a onetime injection of $20 million to fight citrus greening, a disease that imperils the nation’s $13 billion citrus industry. Also known as “yellow dragon disease,” it’s thought to have originated in China in the early 1900s and has recently become a concern to U.S. citrus growers.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., pushed for the funding and said “$20 million is a good step and will allow us to accelerate the research we’ve started.”

Overall, discretionary agriculture funding is set at $20.9 billion, $350 million more than last year.

– Regulatory agencies. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, involved in finalizing rules for first-ever regulation of the complex derivatives markets, got a modest increase over last year’s $205 million.

Derivatives’ collapse helped trigger the 2007-09 recession. With the slightly higher funding level, agency officials said they can avoid future furloughs, replace staff that left during funding cuts and restore some programs that were slashed because of the sequester. Advocacy groups say the small increase is tantamount to starving financial regulators.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates stocks, is primarily funded by user fees. The bill calls for $1.35 billion for the agency, well below the $1.67 billion sought by the administration and up modestly from the $1.25 billion that the sequester had permitted.

– Legislative branch. The biggest items in the legislative budget involve $1.2 billion to keep the 435-member House running. The 100-member Senate is funded at $859 million. The Senate also received $720,000 “to enhance oversight intelligence matters,” according the budget.

As is tradition, appropriators designated money to a survivor of a deceased member of Congress. The widow of the late Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., who died in October, was appropriated $174,000.

– Treasury. The Internal Revenue Service, subject to controversy because of its scrutiny of conservative organizations, would get about $526 million less than last year, well below the $12.86 billion the agency and the Obama administration sought.

In fact, the sequester-level funding means the agency would be getting funding below that of the 2009 appropriation levels, the House Appropriations Committee said.

The IRS will now be subjected to more extensive reporting, the committees’ report said, about spending by management, and spending on training and bonuses and prohibits funding for “inappropriate” motivational videos that went public and became fodder for late-night TV hosts to ridicule the agency.

Treasury would get more than it sought for anti-terrorism and financial intelligence programs. The bill designated $102 million to that end, $2 million above fiscal 2013 enacted levels and $4.2 million above what the Obama administration asked.

– Energy/environment. The bill seeks to slow some of the president’s new-energy programs as it bolsters the role of traditional fossil fuels.

Overall, it provides $10.2 billion for energy programs within the Energy Department, up $620 million from last year. Included is $562 million for research into coal, natural gas, oil and other fossil fuel technologies, one-third more than Obama sought and 5 percent above 2013 levels.

Nuclear energy research and development would get $889 million, or 21 percent above the president’s request.

Among the cuts: Energy efficiency and renewable energy programs received $1.9 billion, 32 percent less than Obama wanted. The Environmental Protection Agency budget, slightly below last year’s level, is designed to “prevent unnecessary overregulation of American businesses and industries,” the House Appropriations Committee said.

– Military construction/veterans. The bill provides $9.8 billion, down $817 million from last year, for military projects on military bases in the U.S. and overseas.

The bill also cuts military family housing from last year’s total, a result, the bill report said, of “savings from the privatization of family housing.”

Discretionary funding for Department of Veterans Affairs programs is up $2.3 billion to $63.2 billion. Funding is up to reduce the disability claims processing backlog by 2015. Also increased is money for information technology upgrades at regional offices to improve the paperless claims processing system.

Chris Adams, Lesley Clark, James Rosen, Sean Cockerham, Greg Gordon, Maria Recio, Franco Ordonez, William Douglas, Curtis Tate and Michael Doyle of the Washington Bureau contributed.

Email: dlightman@mcclatchydc.com, khall@mcclatchydc.com, hallam@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lightmandavid, @KevinGHall, @hannahallam

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