Congress returns this week with one of its top goals the passage of a single House-Senate budget resolution. The agreements that allowed the House and Senate budget resolutions (H. Con Res 27 and S. Con. Res. 11 ) to pass included significant defense spending increases but those increases were included because both houses classified it as “emergency” spending. That is, it is not counted against self-imposed spending ceilings. That approach to not count more than $90 billion in increased defense spending may not be possible without President Obama’s ok and the President is unlikely to do that short of an overall budget agreement that replaces the sequestration, across-the-board cuts.
The House resolution includes more than $5.5 trillion in cuts over 10 years while the Senate version includes cuts of $4.5 trillion over the same period. The avoidance of the sequestration caps allows defense spending increases of $96 billion (House resolution) or $89 billion plus $7 billion more for the State Department (Senate resolution). Both classify the increases as part of the emergency spending category called the Overseas Contingency Fund (OCF). According to published reports, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has written an analysis that indicates that the emergency spending cannot happen without the President’s approval or concurrence. Failure of Congress to get a presidential ok means that the spending increase in overseas funding would be offset by across-the-board cuts in the defense budget next January.
President Obama is seeking increased defense spending of $38 billion to an overall total of $560 billion but he is seeking the increase as part of a proposal to raise the current spending caps from $1.017 trillion to $1.091 trillion with the increases divided between defense and non-defense spending. Such an action would replace the sequestration caps.
The House resolution passed with Republican votes only by a vote of 228 to 199 while the passage of the Senate resolution was approved by a vote of 52 to 46 a few days later. A single resolution is important to some in Congress because it would allow the use of the reconciliation process that would lead to a fast track of significant legislation that could change the tax code, cut entitlement spending and/or raise the debt ceiling.