Senate Democrats next week will introduce their own version of a funding mechanism to keep the government running that will provide new flexibility to domestic agencies to manage the impact of the across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester. But, like a version adopted by the House on Wednesday, it will lock in the sequester through the end of the year.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told reporters Thursday that her measure, which likely will be introduced on Monday and face Senate votes as early as Wednesday, is designed to avoid controversial issues that could force a confrontation with the House. The two sides must agree on a funding resolution by March 27, when the current measure keeping the government running expires.
"We appreciate what the House did. We consider it a good first step. But it can't be the only step," Milkuski said. "The bill has to include some domestic bills that meet compelling human needs, that will present no major controversies because they've been vetted before...I understand. No poison pill riders. No cute little gimmicks."
For the most part, the House provided provisions to help blunt the impact of sequester largely only on the Defense Department. For most of the government, the House's resolution would keep spending priorities that had been in place for the first half of the fiscal year — and then whack them by $85 billion, as President Obama ordered last week when the sequester took effect. Though the House restored no funding to the military, which absorbed half of the sequester reductions, it did embrace new priorities for military spending negotiated between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate late last year. That had the result of blunting the impact of the cuts for the Pentagon.
Mikulski said the Senate measure also would reflect new spending priorities in a few other areas--agriculture, commerce, justice and science, as well as homeland security. Plus, she said the Senate would a embrace new mechanism to give agency heads the ability to transfer money between programs, with Congressional approval. That would help agency heads manage the sequester, which lopped an equal percentage off every effected program, regardless of its importance.
But the Senate would give agencies no additional money and the funding bill would reflect the same $982 billion in funding, reflecting the sequester's cuts, included in the House bill, she said.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) warned Senate Democrats on Thursday morning against trying to undo the sequester in the temporary funding bill.
"The House is not using this as a vehicle to advance other agendas and I would hope the Senate too would avoid doing so and either pass our bill or only make straightforward changes," he said. " I would urge Democrat leaders in the Senate to not get greedy and get carried away and try to flip forward the possibility of a government shutdown. Our goal here is to cut spending, not to shut down the government."