It would mitigate some of the worst effects of the sequester by restoring readiness and maintenance funds to the military and apply additional monies to some domestic programs.
But what makes this proposal different is that it would keep most of the sequester cuts while lowering the baseline budget for most federal departments.
House Republicans moved ahead Monday behind a six-month stopgap spending bill that would keep the government funded through September but also lock in appropriations at a far lower level than even Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget envisioned last spring.
The measure addresses multiple hot spots in the wake of the automatic spending cuts ordered last Friday. But it is ultimately a zero-sum game in which money is shifted from one account to the next — only to mitigate the adverse impacts of sequestration, not roll back the reductions themselves.
Inside the Pentagon, billions of dollars would be moved to operation and maintenance accounts to relieve some of the crunch facing the four military services. At the State Department, up to $2 billion in new funding — offset by cuts elsewhere — is reallocated for embassy security in the wake of the attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Closer to home, an additional $344 million would become available to help Homeland Security maintain customs and Border Patrol staffing. And the Forest Service and Interior Department are promised an additional $570 million to cope with wildfires this summer.
But a frustrated White House came away empty-handed in its effort to boost Head Start or secure additional funds to help set up the state exchanges important to the president’s health reform initiative. And Senate Democrats are sure to demand further adjustments before the measure becomes law.
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insist that neither wants a government shutdown when the current continuing resolution, or CR, runs out March 27. But it is an uneasy truce that will grow more tense as the full impact of the cuts begins to be felt.
New estimates Monday by the Congressional Budget Office show that current appropriations levels will drop by about $59 billion from $1.043 trillion to $984 billion for 2013.
That’s $33 billion below the ceiling set by House Republicans last spring. And having just won reelection, Obama is being put in a remarkable situation in which he must manage the government with fewer real discretionary dollars than his Republican predecessor President George W. Bush had five years ago.
The long climb of increases in discretionary spending has been halted — at least temporarily. But cutting discretionary spending is not going to even come close to balancing the budget. For that, only reforming entitlements will do the trick.
And while the president appears to have put entitlement reform on the table, he is not going to move on it until Republicans agree to some kind of tax reform that would raise revenue substantially by closing loopholes. This has always been the outline of a “Grand Bargain” and since the GOP has dug in their heels on any increase in revenue, we are likely to simply be kicking the budget can down the road six months and will have to go through this whole thing again.