WASHINGTON D.C. —
The Pentagon faces a tight squeeze even as it avoids what would have been another $20 billion wave of automatic cuts. The Pentagon’s core budget is basically frozen at $487 billion after most accounts absorbed an 8 percent automatic cut last year. Adding $6 billion to Obama’s war request provides some relief to readiness accounts, however, though active duty troop levels would still be cut by 40,000 to 1.36 million. It includes $85 billion for overseas military operations, a slight cut from last year.
Domestic programs generally fare better and are kept, on average, at levels agreed to last year before the automatic cuts of 5 percent kicked in across the board. Those broadly applied cuts, called sequestration, were triggered by Washington’s inability to follow up a 2011 budget deal with additional deficit savings.
NASA, the FBI and the Border Patrol all won spending increases at the expense of cuts to the Transportation Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service and foreign aid. There’s money to repair the iconic cast iron dome of the U.S. Capitol, full funding for food aid for low-income pregnant women and their children, and a $150 million increase over 2013 for high-priority transportation infrastructure projects. Army Corps of Engineers construction accounts get a more than $300 million hike over Obama’s request for flood control, shoreline protection and environmental restoration and other projects.
The bill fills out the budget agreement sealed last month by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the heads of the House and Senate Budget Committees. Murray and Ryan left it to the chairmen of Congress’ appropriations committees, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., to work out the details.
The measure changes a Ryan-Murray provision cutting military pension cost-of-living increases for working age retirees to exempt disabled veterans and surviving spouses from the cut. The Veterans Administration gets an almost automatic boost of $2.3 billion, almost 4 percent, driven by increased health care costs.