House appropriators off to fast start

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday moved the first of 12 annual spending bills for 2015, marking the earliest start on record for the committee, according to Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).
 
The bill setting funding for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs passed through the subcommittee level on an apparently unanimous voice vote. 
 
Appropriators hope that, this year, they will finally be able to fulfill their statutory mandate to enact individual spending bills by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 after decades of falling short.
 
“My goal is to have all the bills through the full committee by July 4,” a cheerful Rogers told the subcommittee.
 
Later Thursday, the Legislative Branch subcommittee is slated to move its appropriations bill. 
 
The quick action — coming before the House has even voted on an overall budget outline for 2015 — was made possible by a December budget deal which set $1.012 trillion as the top-line discretionary spending level for the year. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) decided to stick to that level for this year to ease the appropriations process.
 
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Rogers told The Hill that he is working closely with his Senate counterpart, Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and plans to move bills in sync to allow enactment early on, thereby avoiding a giant omnibus package at the end of the process.
 
One hiccup in the plan is coming up with a House outline for all 12 bills, known in Washington jargon as 302b allocations. In the past, the 302b allocations have been released with the first spending bill, but not this time.
 
Rogers declined to say when the 302b allocations would be made, but they will surely need to come before the most controversial measures like the Labor, Health and Human Services bill can be completed.
 
The Milcon-VA bill for 2015 cuts spending on military construction, while boosting funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
 
In all, the committee’s legislation provides $71.5 billion in discretionary spending for military construction and Veterans Affairs — $1.8 billion less than what was enacted last year.
 
The bill provides $6.6 billion for military construction, a cut of $3.3 billion, compared to 2014 appropriations levels.
 
The panel says the spending reduction is attributed to a lack of need for new military construction projects.
 
The appropriations measure increases funding for veterans programs, meanwhile, by $1.5 billion.
 
The markup, led by subpanel Chairman John Culberson (R-Texas), focused on resolving the backlog of veterans claims at the VA. A chief cause of that has been the inability of the VA to access Pentagon medical records and the continued problems have infuriated Culberson and others on his panel.