An upcoming House-Senate budget conference faces a daunting task in trying to find an alternative to a $20 billion cut in national defense spending that’s set to occur in January. But that mission may face better odds than appropriators would in trying to roll back their outsize defense spending blueprints for fiscal 2014 to meet spending caps.
The $20 billion figure represents the amount by which this month’s stopgap spending bill for fiscal 2014 (PL 113-46) exceeds the cap in law for national defense programs. The cap applies to “050” programs, which include military, intelligence, military construction, nuclear weapons and a few other security initiatives. The continuing resolution provides $518 billion for such programs, while the 2011 debt limit law (PL 112-25) requires that the number come down to $498.1 billion or less.
If the budget conferees cannot reach agreement by mid-December, the Pentagon could suggest to appropriators where to cut in fiscal 2014 to feed into its sequester-level spending plan for fiscal 2015, said Russell Rumbaugh, a defense budget expert at the Stimson Center think tank.
“Everybody thinks sequester’s stupid, but everybody’s skeptical the caps will be raised,” he said. “The most likely case, then, is that DoD helps the appropriators find the $50 billion.”
It will be difficult task for appropriators, “both analytically and politically,” he added. “Even with DoD’s help, finding $50 billion is not something appropriators usually do.”
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