House GOP prepares stopgap spending bill to avoid shutdown

House appropriators are finalizing a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown after March 27, and the bill could see a vote before the end of February.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he is crafting a continuing resolution at the current level of spending, thereby separating the issue of a government shutdown from the question of how to deal with automatic sequestration cuts.

The stopgap spending bill would be set at the current level of $1.043 trillion for the entire fiscal year that began Oct. 1. It would specify that the $85 billion sequestration is allowed to take place unless it is separately turned off.

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 The bill would contain full-year appropriations bills for the Defense department, and also cover military construction and veterans' affairs spending. 

By going from a stopgap bill for these areas to a detailed appropriations bill, Rogers hopes to help the Pentagon cope better with the effects of sequestration. The CR alone was slated to cause an $11 billion shortfall for the Pentagon's operations and maintenance account and the Rogers plan would allow the Pentagon to work around that limitation.

Impacts were projected to affect matters from Joint Strike Fighter procurement to the building of medical facilities to treat wounded soldiers. 

“It is frankly to give them some flexibility to allow them to manage their business,” Rogers told reporters.

He noted that the details of the $518 defense portion of the bill as well as the veterans' affairs bill have been hashed out with the Senate Appropriations Committee already.

“They are the only two bills that have been perfected,” he said.

Aides said that Rogers began moving forward with the bill after members on the defense, veterans and other committee urged him to do something to soften the blow of a year-long CR.

Leadership “does not object” to the Rogers initiative, an aide added, and the bill could see floor time anytime from late February until the current stopgap measure runs out after March 27.

Preparing the bill also helps the GOP deflect charges, such as one made by President Obama in the State of the Union, that it is eager to shut down the government.

"By doing Defense and Veterans' Appropriations bills, we can show the public our vision for responsible funding for our national defense, as opposed to Obama's vision, which is slash and burn sequestration cuts and a hollowed-out military," a GOP memo states.

Rogers told reporters that his CR is consistent with sequestration although he wants to see the $85 billion in cuts replaced with entitlement reforms.

“I’m going to be throwing a bill up according to the law. I am trying to follow the law,” he said.

So far, Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked on how to replace the sequester, with Democrats seeking additional tax increases to turn off the cuts. 

Rogers is meeting with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) on Wednesday where the CR plan could come up.