Congress nears defense spending bill deadline

WASHINGTON – Congressional negotiators have completed work on the military portion of a plan to finance the U.S. government and avoid a second shutdown in four months, said House Appropriations Committee member Ken Calvert, R-Calif.

Lawmakers are generally agreed on 11 of the 12 sections of the measure, Calvert said without specifiying which section remained unfinished. Negotiators were able to fit in the necessary cuts that had to be made on military spending, he told reporters Wednesday in Washington.

Current government funding runs out in a week, on Jan. 15. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said that “because of Senate procedures,” Congress may need to approve a two-day stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating until the final bill is enacted.

“We’re looking at narrowing the differences, looking at what’s the negotiation space and how we can compromise without capitulation on both sides,” Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., told reporters Jan. 7.

Top House and Senate appropriators met face-to-face Jan. 7 for the first time this year. The encyclopedic spending bill would finance the government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Lawmakers are working from a December budget deal that set a spending total at about $1.01 trillion.

Republican efforts to block President Obama’s 2010 health-care law were at the center of a spending-bill dispute that caused a 16-day government shutdown in October.

While there’s less appetite among congressional Republicans now to force a shutdown over the law, they remain deeply opposed to it. The House has voted to repeal it numerous times and scheduled votes on separate bills later this week that would address what they say are security problems with the law.

Since Republicans took control of the House three years ago, dividing control of Congress between Democrats and Republicans, the government has been funded almost exclusively through a series of stopgap spending measures.

Agreement on spending for the Department of Health and Human Services has traditionally been politically difficult. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who leads a panel with jurisdiction over the agency, said several issues were still unfinished and that conferees were “negotiating on language.”

Defense funding had been a sticking point in the bill. One reason is that negotiators needed to cut more than $26 billion below the Pentagon’s base defense request, even though lawmakers’ budget deal late last year provided some relief from automatic spending cuts.

New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the top Republican on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said Wednesday his section is in good shape and will be a bipartisan measure.

Defense cuts may affect government contractors, including Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and General Dynamics Corp., the top three federal contractors for 2012. Each of those firms spent at least $11.1 million lobbying in 2013, according to disclosures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The top customer for each of the top 10 federal contractors was a unit of the Department of Defense, according to a Bloomberg compilation of contracting records. Many of the spending fights that would affect them don’t break down along party lines.

The Senate’s original spending proposal would cut General Dynamics’s Virginia-class submarines by 8.8 percent. The House wanted to spend almost 21 percent more. The Senate proposed paring back Boeing’s ballistic missile defense program based in California and Alaska by about 9 percent, while the House would increase spending by 13 percent.

Another contentious issue in the State Department and foreign operations section has been whether to allow $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt after its military deposed former President Mohammed Morsi. Obama suspended such assistance to Egypt in October.

Lawmakers also were deciding whether to include House- proposed restrictions that would block Environmental Protection Agency regulations opposed by coal companies such as Arch Coal Inc. and agriculture industries.

The interior, environment and related agencies portion, which includes EPA, is in “conceptually” good shape, said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who leads that subcommittee panel.

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