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Senate passes fiscal 2014 budget bill, sends to Obama

Jan. 15, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
A massive spending bill passed Wednesday by the House of Representatives provides $472 billion for the Pentagon's base budget for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
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The Senate quickly passed the massive $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill Thursday evening 72-16 and sent it to the president for signature, which the White House has signaled it will approve in short order.

“It unwinds some of the damaging cuts caused by sequestration, ensures the continuation of critical services that the American people depend on and invests in essential areas such as education, infrastructure, manufacturing, and scientific research, which contribute to growing the economy, creating jobs, and strengthening the middle class,” White House budget officials said in a release Tuesday.

The legislation, which encompasses 12 different spending bills, appropriates $572 billion for defense, including $128.8 billion for military personnel funding. It funds a 1 percent pay raise and restores full raises for medical retirees and survivors whose annual cost-of-living adjustments would have been capped under the original Bipartisan Budget Act.

The legislation contains $487 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, $39.6 billion below the Obama administration’s request. But that is also below spending caps set by the Ryan-Murray budget agreement, which frees DoD from the effects of sequestration cuts for the rest of this fiscal year.

The funding levels also are below both what the House and Senate sought in their separate versions of the bill, requiring much finagling among appropriators who hammered out the agreement.

In the end, winners included the personnel budget, reduced by less than 1 percent from both the House and Senate versions; the budget for Afghanistan and other overseas military operations, which, at $85 billion, is nearly $6 billion more than the administration’s request; and the budget for “other Defense Department operations,” including the defense health system, which at $35.04 billion was nearly fully funded at White House request levels.

Losers included the procurement account, which received $93 billion — $6.3 billion below the White House request — and research and development, which at $63 billion is $7 billion less than DoD received in fiscal 2013 and $4.5 billion below the administration’s request.

“Not many programs were left untouched. But we gave our military leaders much badly needed predictability in the budget ... and preserved readiness,” said the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., shortly before the vote.

In addition to funding pay and benefits for nearly 1.4 million active-duty troops and 833,700 reservists, the personnel budget provides $32.7 billion for health programs.

Among the defense health provisions, the bill specifically restricts the Pentagon from enacting any fees for older retirees using Tricare for Life.

It also provides $17 million for U.S. Special Operations Command to start a program similar to those established by the military services to embed mental health professionals with operational troops.

And it includes additions from Congress to fund medical research programs, including $120 million for breast cancer research, $125 million for traumatic brain injury and psychological health research, and $100 million for joint warfighter medical research.

The legislation orders a number of reports and changes, including:

■ A prohibition on funding for transfers of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the U.S. or any of its territories.

■ An order to the Defense Department to implement recommendations of the DoD Inspector General on improving the ability of military criminal investigative agencies to collect evidence and process crime scenes in military sexual assault cases.

■ A request for a report from the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs on medical conditions and the prevention, treatment and care given to sailors who believe they were exposed to radiation while serving on the carrier USS Ronald Reagan following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

■ A directive to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness to review the role of military service academy superintendents, including the criteria for choosing them and evaluating their performance.

The Senate passed a continuing resolution that will allow the federal government to stay open past 11:59 p.m. Jan. 15 without complete passage of the omnibus bill. The resolution buys the Senate time to debate and vote on the bill, with passage expected by Jan. 17.

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