2014 budget takes center stage on Capitol Hill

Monday - 4/15/2013, 8:25pm EDT

With the release of the White House's 2014 budget proposal last week, budget season on Capitol Hill is in full swing.

But things are a little different this year.

Coinciding with the release of the budget and the flurry of congressional hearings about various agencies' top-line requests for next fiscal year were confirmation hearings for Sylvia Burwell, President Barack Obama's pick to head the Office of Management and Budget.

"This is a critical nomination, as we know," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which held one of two confirmation hearings for Burwell last week.

The OMB director role has been vacant since January 2012, when then-director Jack Lew left to become White House chief of staff. (Lew has since been nominated and confirmed to serve as Treasury secretary).

The HSGAC committee is set to vote on Burwell's nomination Wednesday. The Senate Budget Committee is also expected to vote this week. The full Senate must also approve Burwell's nomination.

Burwell, a former OMB deputy director who most recently served as the head of the Walmart Foundation, told the Senate HSGAC committee last week her first priority is "regular order and relationship," at OMB. That includes timeliness and responsiveness from the Executive Branch in supporting the congressional budget and appropriations process.

Congressional Republicans have criticized the White House for submitting its 2014 budget request two months late and for being uncommunicative at times about the implementation of the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

"If I am confirmed, my primary focus will be to contribute to achieving balanced deficit reduction, increased efficiency and effectiveness in how government works, and targeted investments that grow the economy and create jobs," Burwell told the Senate Budget Committee.

"Although OMB is most well-known for its work on the federal budget, the management side of OMB is also critical," she added.

Despite the high-profile nature of the job and the often heated rhetoric surrounding the budget, Burwell's nomination has not been a controversial choice, and she faced a mostly friendly reception at her two confirmation hearings last week.

Slate of budget hearings set to kick off

Along with the vote on Burwell's nomination this week, both the House and Senate will host a number of budget hearings.

The House Appropriations Committee will hear testimony Tuesday from no fewer than three Cabinet secretaries on their 2014 budget requests.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will defend the Pentagon's $536.6 billion base budget, about 7 percent more than the department is slated to receive this year because of sequestration. DoD's budget also calls for a 1 percent pay raise for uniformed and civilian workers, increased TRICARE fees and another round of base realignment and closure (BRAC) in 2015.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will appear before the Appropriations Committee to detail the $76.6 billion proposed budget for DoT, including spending nearly $1 billion for further development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, known as NextGen.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will appear before the Appropriations Committee to elaborate on the department's $22.6 billion budget request. That includes a $4 billion investment in renewable energy improvements. The budget also calls for the creation of a chief evaluation officer at USDA to "support evidence-based policy-making." The new position will work with component agencies and program offices "to develop and implement evaluation agendas and priorities set by policy officials."

Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris will also appear before the committee to detail the department's $12.1 billion request.

Later in the week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is slated to appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to defend the department's $39 billion budget request. That actually represents a decrease of 1.5 percent from 2012 levels. DHS said its 2014 request also reflects savings of $1.3 billion from reduced administrative costs.

The DHS budget also includes $44 million to fund an expansion of the department's Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. In addition, the budget seeks to eliminate stand-alone grants for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and fold them into a new departmentwide grants program.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, is slated to appear before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday to defend the $80.1 billion HHS budget.

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