House Appropriations panel approves $512 billion Pentagon spending bill

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed a $512.5 billion Defense bill over objections from Democrats who complained the measure ignored spending caps under sequestration.

The committee passed the bill Wednesday, sending the Pentagon spending measure to the House floor. The bill also includes $85.8 billion for funding the war in Afghanistan, a $5 billion increase from the Pentagon’s request.

The $512.5 billion base bill is $28 billion above the defense funding caps set by sequester, which also includes military construction and nuclear programs under the Department of Energy. The bill is higher than the sequestration caps for 2014 because the House panel is making deep discretionary cuts to other federal agencies.

Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said she objected to paying for higher defense spending through cuts to other domestic programs.

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“Considered in a vacuum, this is a good bill,” Lowey said. “To pay for it, the majority makes draconian cuts to domestic priorities.”

Lowey unsuccessfully sought to postpone the markup until the House and Senate go to conference on the budget, a strategy she has attempted to use during previous appropriations markups this year.

Democrats also tried unsuccessfully to pass an amendment to the bill to replace sequestration, which Republicans blocked.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said that he wanted to see a budget compromise and sequestration done away with, but said that the appropriations bills still had to move forward in the meantime.

“I believe this funding level is appropriate, justifiable, and most importantly, is sufficient,” Rogers said.

The fight over sequestration and the discretionary topline has played out through each markup of the Appropriations bills this year, as the two parties have moved no closer to finding a solution to reverse the sequester.

For the past two years, the Pentagon budget has largely been caught in the middle of a dispute over taxes and mandatory spending that led to the sequester taking effect in March.

President Obama's 2014 budget request also had a higher defense spending level, averting the sequester with tax increases that are unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled House.

While the House's Defense spending bill funds everything from the military’s big-ticket items like the F-35 to a 1.8 percent pay raise for troops that was higher than the Pentagon’s request, much of the debate during Wednesday’s markup focused on thorny policy issues surrounding the war on terror.

Republicans included prohibitions in the Appropriations bill over moving Guantánamo detainees to the United States.

The measure effectively stymies Obama’s renewed effort to close the prison, just as the House Armed Services Committee did in the Defense authorization bill last week.

The panel rejected an amendment from Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) along party lines that would have lifted the restrictions on transferring Guantánamo detainees. Moran made a similar move on the House floor last week during debate on the military construction appropriations bill that was also voted down.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force when combat operations end in Afghanistan, and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) pushed to move lethal drone operations to the Pentagon’s control and not the CIA. Both amendments were defeated.