Sunday, February 2, 2014



What's In the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations? A Closer Look

The 2014 Omnibus


The defense appropriations bill provides $486.9 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, which is relatively the same as the amount of funding the Pentagon received post-sequester in Fiscal Year 2013. However, $85 billion is included in the bill in the war funding or Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget. At $85 billion, the OCO budget, which was created to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rises for the first time in years and is almost $6 billion higher than the amount requested by the Administration this year. The OCO budget is not subject to spending caps and is exempt from sequestration and this $6 billion boost serves as a cushion for the Pentagon and will presumably be used to avert spending cuts and fund non-war spending in the base budget. As we exit two wars, it is illogical that war funding should rise. This is a disingenuous budgeting practice on the part of defense appropriators, who were seeking to soften some of the cuts coming to the Pentagon by placing more money in the OCO account. As we well know, there are many areas of waste, fraud, and abuse in the Pentagon’s budget. If Congress, and appropriators in particular, take a long, hard look at the Pentagon budget, there are billions of savings to be found. Still, despite this deceitful move with the war budget, there are a few victories within the Defense Appropriations bill:
  • The firewall calling for equity between defense and non-defense spending was maintained.
  • There are still spending caps on the defense budget.
  • The bill includes minor cuts in procurement. For example, the Pentagon will receive 20 less of the controversial Littoral Combat Ships.
  • The movement to cut Pentagon spending has been successful in bringing the conversation about defense spending reductions into the mainstream.
No longer engaged in any active wars, the U.S. defense budget must come down far more to match past post-war drawdowns. But we have laid the groundwork; years ago cutting the defense budget seemed an impossible task. The question is no longer, “Can we cut the defense budget?” But rather, “How much can the defense budget be cut?” Now, there is even bipartisan support for defense spending cuts. Going forward in advocating to bring the Pentagon budget down will also involve incorporating a conversation about the increasing militarization of U.S. foreign policy, which is a driving force behind our soaring Pentagon budget. As the U.S. exits two wars and we strive to avoid another war, the country should strengthen its civilian toolkit and should pare the defense budget down to reflect post-war spending levels. While the FY2014 Defense Appropriation bill does not reflect the post-war drawdown we would like to see, the precedent that Pentagon spending can be reduced is here to stay, and the future holds more opportunities to bring the budget down.

Labor, Health and Human Services and Education

The omnibus allocates $156.8 billion
The Education Department would receive less money than the fiscal year 2013 enacted level, but a variety of programs would have funding cut by sequestration restored. Most of the decrease is cut from large elementary and secondary level formula grant programs, while early childhood education is expanded. The omnibus spending bill reverses sequestration cuts to Head Start, which kicked 57,000 children out of classes last year. The extra money will allow all of the slots to be restored and give Head Start programs a 1.3 percent cost-of-living increase. This appropriation also dedicates $500 million to expanding Early Head Start, which serves infants and toddlers in low-income families. Grants that help schools serve low-income children and children with disabilities, higher education Pell Grants and Impact Aid to schools that serve children from military bases and children from tribal land were all given more funding than they would have under sequestration.
Funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act would have just over a billion dollars cut, but would otherwise be preserved. Meals on Wheels, which faced drastic cuts under sequestration, received more funding so homebound seniors will not be denied more meals this year. Overall, the Department of Labor would receive almost half a billion dollars less than fiscal year 2013 enacted levels, though jobs programs including the Jobs Corps, the Veterans Employment and Training Service and the Workforce Investment Act Grants to states would all receive a funding boost allowing them to serve more people than they would have at post-sequestration levels. The National Labor Relations Board would be funded at more than $10 million less than the President requested, which will impede the Board’s ability to oversee and correct unfair labor practices.
Even though this Labor-HHS-Ed Appropriations would leave some gaps in meeting the needs of communities around the country, the increases above sequestration level funding it grants to many low-income programs would be a huge improvement over the harm inflicted last year. Moreover, as it has been nearly two years since the last Labor-HHS-Ed Appropriations bill, the opportunity for Congress to set new policy initiatives and prioritize funding is invaluable.

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies

Last summer, on July 31 House Republicans pulled their version of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (THUD) (HR 2610) from the floor. The sudden removal of the bill from the House floor was the first sign that the House-passed Ryan budget could not, with its draconian cuts to vital programs, realistically be put into action. It’s a safe to assume that there were few members who were comfortable going on record voting for the bill.
The Fiscal Year 2014 THUD bill provides $50.8 billion in spending, down $961 million from pre-sequestration FY2013 levels. Highlights from the bill include an increase in funding for Section 8 Low-Income Housing Vouchers. Earlier this year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that, if sequestration was not cancelled in 2014, “between 125,000 and 185,000 low-income families will lose assistance by the end of 2014” compared to December 2012. Under this bill, housing assistance programs including Section 8 receive a $411 million increase from post-sequestration levels. The Administration’s request for 10,000 new housing vouchers for veterans is fully funded. However, community planning grants and other programs are cut by $145 million, while Community Development Block grants, which are given to communities for affordable housing, anti-poverty and infrastructure projects, receive a funding boost.
This bill does not fully repair the damage done to housing assistance lost during sequestration, and according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “does not provide sufficient funding for HUD to issue full-year project-based contracts, and does not fully fund public housing operations.”
The THUD appropriations bill does not enable HUD to meet the housing need in this country. However, the increased funding that low-income programs will receive next year is a good step up from the post-sequestration status quo that will offer a few more opportunities to help low-income people into safe, affordable homes.