- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2012

Passing annual spending bills was once a routine part of business on Capitol Hill, but the House only highlighted Congress‘ ongoing dysfunction when it passed a defense plan on Thursday that is certain to be blocked by Senate Democrats and ignores deep cuts to the Pentagon slated for next year.

On a 326-90 vote, House lawmakers approved a $608 billion defense appropriations bill that doles out funding for national security programs, overseas military operations and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said his chamber won’t take up any spending bills before the November election.

And Republicans wrote their bill to exceed the spending caps Congress agreed upon last year and spent two days working on it — despite the steep cuts scheduled to hit the Department of Defense in January if they don’t resolve an impasse with Democrats.

Congress is divided over how to avoid $1.2 trillion in cuts to domestic and defense spending that House Republicans and the White House agreed to last summer as part of a last-minute sequestration deal to raise the debt ceiling.

If both parties don’t reach an agreement before New Year’s Day the cuts will kick in, with about half directed at defense, to the chagrin of Republicans, and half directed at domestic spending, frustrating Democrats.

“The bottom line is none of these bills assume sequestration,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. “The two parties are sort of arguing over where the deck chairs are on the Titanic when there’s this looming scenario.”

But the House did pass a measure earlier in the week requiring the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to provide more information about how it would implement the year-end defense cuts. The Senate has approved similar legislation.

“I think it’s important for the Office of Management and Budget to come forward and outline to the American people just how they intend to implement the sequester — because right now there are more unanswered questions than there are answered questions with regard to how the sequester will work and where the cuts will come from,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday morning.

The impasse on spending didn’t stop Republicans from pressing ahead with the appropriations bill, marking the seventh of 12 regular spending bills the House has passed this year. While the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved nine spending bills, Mr. Reid hasn’t allowed any to the floor, citing differences with Republicans in how much to spend overall next year.

Wading through dozens of amendments on Wednesday and Thursday, House lawmakers agreed to cut aid to Pakistan and left in provisions that delay retirements and reassignments of National Guard and Reserve aircraft, pushing back against cuts proposed by the Pentagon, which is trying to trim its spending by $487 billion over the next decade.

As they prepared to vote on the legislation, some lawmakers voiced their concerns about how the sequestration will hurt the sluggish economy if it’s allowed to take place, with projections by the Congressional Budget Office that it will slow significantly slow economic growth.

“I really believe that somehow we’ve got to avoid sequestration,” said Rep. Norman D. Dicks, Washington Democrat. “I honestly believe the economy of this country will be severely and adversely affected if we allow sequestration.”