By Jeremy Herb
“I have opposed every bill that the committee has reported this year, not because they have no merit, but because I cannot support a topline $91 billion above the level at which across-the-board cuts will kick in,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the committee, said before Thursday’s vote.
The size of the Defense bill is not part of the congressional disagreement: The House and Senate Defense measures are only $3 billion apart, as the House kept Defense spending at pre-sequester levels through cuts to other discretionary budgets.
“They assume that sequester will continue, and they put a moat around Defense so that all $91 billion in cuts come out of domestic funding bills,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said Thursday, raising objections to potential cuts to Head Start, Meals on Wheels and grants from the National Institutes of Health.
Mikulski called again Thursday for a resolution to sequestration, which has been elusive in the two years since the Budget Control Act was passed, and Republicans who voted against the Defense appropriations bill agreed with her.
“We screwed ourselves here,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the eight GOP no votes. “And somebody on this body on the Republican and Democratic sides needs to find a way to work with our president to undo this.”
The $594.4 Senate Defense bill includes $516.4 billion in base defense spending and $77.8 billion for the war in Afghanistan.
The $598.3 billion Defense bill that passed the House last week included $512.5 billion in base Pentagon spending and $85.8 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations.
The Senate panel included an amendment to the Defense bill Thursday from Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that would require congressional approval before the U.S. uses military force in Syria. The amendment passed 20-10, with support and opposition on both sides of the aisle, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) requested a tweak in the language of the measure.
The bill includes an additional $2.9 billion to restore shortfalls in training and equipment accounts caused by sequestration cuts in the 2013 budget.
The legislation fully funds the F-35 program in 2014 but includes limitations on the program's funding in 2015 until testing and software delivery issues are resolved.