House preps floor work on two spending bills for fiscal 2014

The increase over last year is largely due to an increase approved last year for veterans' medical care, and to reduce the backlog in veterans' healthcare claims.

Discretionary spending at the Department of Veterans Affairs would rise $2.1 billion to $63.1 billion. Military construction spending is at $9.9 billion, a $646 million reduction from last year.

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The second bill is the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, H.R. 2217. It provides for $38.9 billion in discretionary spending on the Department of Homeland Security, $618 million less than last year's bill and $35 million less than the president's request. The Homeland bill does represent a $981 million increase in funding compared to current levels once automatic sequestration cuts are factored in.

The bill includes increases for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but would reduce spending on the Transportation Security Administration, cybersecurity efforts, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Secret Service.

Still, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the bill is enough to fund urgent U.S. national security programs.

"We must always be at the ready, and this bill funds critical programs to keep us that way — including border security efforts, grants for first responders, cyber security protection, disaster relief, and many other important programs to keep our communities and our country safe," he said last week.

In a surprise move, appropriators attached a provision to the Homeland bill that would end all immigration from Brazil in retaliation for the country's refusal to extradite a woman wanted in connection with the murder of her American husband.

The House Rules Committee will meet Monday to approve a rule for both of these bills, which will allow them to be considered on the House floor as early as Tuesday.

House passage of these two bills would leave it with 10 more 2014 spending bills left to go, but there are some doubts that the House will get much further this year.

One major factor is the difficulty House appropriators will have writing 2014 spending bills that take into account the deeper cuts needed to comply with the sequester. This problem is compounded by a House budget that increases defense spending above the sequester levels, which means other agencies will have to be cut even further to offset that increase. The Labor, Health bill is slated to get a 22 percent cut, for example. 

In addition, Rogers has already said the House and Senate might not be able to reach agreement on spending bills that take the sequester into account. That could leave Congress in the position of approving a continuing resolution for 2014 that would force the Obama administration to carry out the across-the-board sequester requirement, just as it did this year.

Earlier in the year, the administration cut $80 billion from federal spending, including by leaning on furloughs for federal workers. 

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