House CR funds gov't through Dec. 15, gives agencies flexibility to avoid furloughs

Wednesday - 9/11/2013, 1:05pm EDT

Updated 9/11/13 at 3:30 p.m. to include information that a vote on the measure is delayed until next week.

The House Appropriations Committee unveiled a stopgap spending measure late Tuesday that would fund agencies through Dec. 15 at slightly below current budget levels.

In a statement, Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the bill he introduced is "simply a temporary measure to keep the lights on in government until this Congress can fulfill its duty by approving appropriations bills for the next fiscal year."

If Congress fails to act by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, the government would be forced to shut down.

The CR extends funding at an annual rate of $986.3 billion, which is slightly below current levels of $988 billion — which includes a more than $80 billion reduction stemming from the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. However, the CR's funding level, when annualized, is higher than top-line figures developed by the House Budget Committee and that the Appropriations Committee had been working from to develop its 12 annual spending bills.

"Virtually all policy and funding provisions included in currently enacted appropriations legislation will carry forward in the CR," according to a notice on the committee website. "The bill does not include new or controversial riders, or changes in existing federal policy"

Bill grants funding flexibilities

The bill does give agencies some additional spending flexibilities and includes a measure that could help agencies stave off furloughs in the first few months of fiscal 2014. The bill allows agencies to allocate funding for employee pay and benefits up to the rate necessary to avoid furloughs, provided the agency only do so as a last resort and take other actions to reduce administrative expenses first.

The bill grants additional funding to the Veterans Benefits Administration to continue processing veterans disability claims and gives Customs and Border Protection additional funding flexibilities to maintain current staffing levels.

The bill, however, faces an uncertain future. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), had scheduled consideration of the bill before the full House for sometime this week. But the plan faces opposition from House tea party conservatives, and a Cantor spokesman now says a vote on the bill is being delayed until next week.

The House and Senate have remained at odds over how to account for sequestration in their 2014 spending plans. The House has settled on a plan that encompasses the total amount of the sequester cuts but spares the Defense Department from deeper reductions. The Senate, on the other hand, wants a higher top-line number of which assumes that sequestration will be replaced with alternative deficit savings.

"This is not the preferred way of doing the nation's financial work — this Congress can and should be passing regular appropriations bills that reflect the country's changing fiscal needs and realities," Rogers said in his statement. "However, given the late date, a continuing resolution is necessary to stop a governmentwide shut down that would halt critical government programs and services, destabilize our economy and put the safety and well-being of our citizens at risk."

There are just seven legislative days left before the fiscal year ends. The House is planning to recess the entire week of Sept. 23.

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