Executive and Legislative Branch Activity

Budget and the Debt Ceiling

With no congressional consensus on a bill to fund the U.S. federal government for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, on Tuesday, October 1, the U.S. government partially shut down. Last week, the House attempted to advance its strategy of passing “mini” continuing resolutions (CR) to fund parts of the government, starting with: (1) the government of Washington, D.C.; (2) the National Park Service; and (3) the National Institutes of Health. The Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the House Republicans’ narrowly targeted stopgap spending measures strategy, instead maintaining the House needs to pass a “clean” CR that funds the entire government. On October 3, by a vote of 265-160, the House passed H.R. 3230 – a bill to pay the National Guard and Reserve.  The House also passed (259-157) a stopgap funding measure for Veterans Affairs (H.J. Res. 72). Adding pressure to the ongoing Congressional impasse, last week, Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew warned Congress to raise the debt ceiling before the U.S. government defaults on its loan obligations, saying the U.S. economy would experience a recession worse than 2008 if the ceiling is not raised before October 17. Both chambers of Congress were in session this past weekend. For a more detailed summary of the CR impasse, please see the Budget and Appropriations section of the Capital Thinking blog.

Government Shutdown:  Military and Defense Contractor Pay

Amid the government shutdown, House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee Chair Rob Wittman (R-VA) held a hearing last week on the impact of sequestration on resetting the U.S. military for the future. Republican members said the Marine Corps and Army will need an estimated $11.2 billion funding to retrograde and reset equipment and troops returning from the planned 2014 Afghanistan withdrawal. Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff Army Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason argued for the repeal of sequestration, noting “a hollow Army is inevitable,” if the mandatory budget cuts move forward. The hearing highlighted sequestration will cause the Army to shed 72,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps to downsize by 20,000 marines.

Those Pentagon officials testifying before the subcommittee last week also expressed dissatisfaction with having to furlough civilians who work alongside military personnel. By letter last week, House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-CA) urged Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to “use the authority Congress has given you to keep national security running, rather than keeping defense civilians at home when they are authorized to work.” He referred to H.R. 3210 – Pay Our Military Act; a bill President Barack Obama signed into law on Monday, September 30. House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Chair Michael Turner (R-OH) also expressed his disappointment in a letter to President Obama last week and urged the President to restore the Defense Department’s “civilian workforce in its entirety.” Last Saturday, October 5, Secretary Hagel announced most of the 350,000 furloughed civilian defense workers could return to their jobs today, after the Administration concluded H.R. 3210 exempts these jobs as critical to protecting national security. This Thursday, October 10, the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on H.R. 3210 and examine the Pentagon’s interpretation of the law (see This Week’s Hearings section below).

Government ShutDown: Intelligence Agencies

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week about the impact of the government shutdown on the U.S. intelligence agencies. He noted approximately 70 percent of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency was furloughed as a result of the shutdown. DNI Clapper also said the shutdown “affects our capability to support the military, diplomacy and our policymakers” and further warned “[t]his is a dreamland for foreign intelligence services to recruit.” Last week, House Republican leaders considered a narrowly targeted stopgap spending measure (H. J. Res. 78) to fund intelligence agencies that would last until the shutdown ends or the end of the calendar year, whichever comes first.

Iraqi Interpreters

Last week, the House cleared a bill to extend a special visa program for Iraqis who assisted U.S. military forces and want to come to the United States. The bill now heads to President Obama for his signature.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Thursday, October 10: The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps Development and Integration of Air/Sea Battle Strategy, Governance and Policy into the Services’ Annual Program, Planning, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) Process.”
  • Thursday, October 10: The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “The Interpretation of H.R. 3210: Pay Our Military Act.”
  • Friday, October 11: The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities is scheduled to hold a hearing titled “Biodefense: Resources and Priorities with the Department of Defense.”