September 19, 2014
After a stall in action last week, lawmakers this week passed an FY15 Continuing Resolution (CR) that will keep the government funded through December 11th. This will give Congress time to consider how to proceed on full-year funding when they return after the November midterm elections. On Wednesday, the House approved the measure (H.J.Res.124) by a vote of 319-108, with 53 Republicans and 55 Democrats in opposition. A motion to recommit, offered by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), which included instructions to extend the Export-Import Bank through September 30, 2021, failed on a party line vote of 228-199. The CR then moved to the Senate, where yesterday it passed by a vote of 78-22, with 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats in opposition.
The CR is largely “clean” in that it does not include new, controversial policy riders and largely maintains spending at current levels, with a few exceptions. Most notably, the bill extends the Export-Import Bank authorization through June 30, 2015, provides $88 million for additional Ebola assistance (although amounts do not come from the International Affairs Budget), and includes the authorization to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces to combat the Islamic State (ISIL).
The authorization to arm vetted, moderate Syrian forces is narrowly drawn, with strict reporting requirements and no new money for the Pentagon to undertake train and equip operations, and explicitly states that this authority does not include approval to send U.S. combat troops into hostilities. The authority is limited through mid-December when more permanent authority will be debated. The authorization amendment, offered by House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-TX), passed by a vote of 273-156 with 71 Republicans and 85 Democrats in opposition.
On another International Affairs issue, the CR does not include an Administration request to increase the cap on Afghanistan special immigrant visas for Afghan civilians that helped the United States as translators and in other capacities over the past decade.
The CR provides approximately $50.4 billion for International Affairs with $43.9 billion in base funding and $6.5 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).
The International Affairs Budget
|FY14 Enacted||FY15 Request||FY15 House||FY15 Senate||FY15 CR|
|$44.1b Base||$44.2b Base||$44.0b Base||$41.3b Base||$43.9b Base|
|$6.5b OCO||$7.3b OCO||$5.9b OCO||$8.6b OCO||$6.5b OCO|
|$50.6b Total||$51.5b Total||$49.9b Total||$49.9b Total||$50.4b Total|
2. Combating ISIL
The question of how to combat ISIL has left lawmakers divided. Last week, the President requested that Congress authorize train and equip operations for moderate Syrian anti-government forces in the CR. In his speech last week, President Obama outlined the strategy to degrade and destroy ISIL. The strategy includes airstrikes, supporting existing forces on the ground currently fighting ISIL, increasing U.S. counterterrorism capacities, and providing humanitarian assistance to displaced people in the region.
This week, committees in both the House and Senate held hearings to delve further into the issue and work toward determining the best course of action moving forward. Secretary of State John Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs and Committees on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel joined General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on Tuesday and Thursday. And General James Mattis, USMC (Ret.), a member of USGLC’s National Security Advisory Council, testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in an open hearing on Thursday morning.
While lawmakers found points of contention while debating the President’s strategy, including whether there is a need for a new Authorization of Military Force (AUMF), the effectiveness of vetting moderate Syrian forces, and a perceived lack of information about the President’s strategy, there was consensus that diplomacy is an important part of our strategy against ISIL. Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Hagel said that “to support…the Iraqi people in their fight, the coalition will need to use all its instruments of power. We intend to use all of those instruments of power – military, law enforcement, economic, diplomatic, and intelligence in coordination with all the countries in the region.” Similarly, General Mattis stated before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that “we must use all means to carry out our strategy, one that does not rely solely on military activities to fight what is at its heart a violent political argument.”
3. U.S. Ebola Assistance Scaled Up
Lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the rapid spread of Ebola and worry that the epidemic presents profound economic and national security implications for the United States. In a rare but welcomed bipartisan fashion, Congress and the Administration have come together to take steps to scale up the U.S. response. In a Senate joint committee hearing on the crisis, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) boldly stated that “we must take the deadly, dangerous threat of the Ebola epidemic as seriously as we take ISIS” while others, including Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), referred to the funding contained in the CR as a “down payment” before more complete action is taken into consideration during completion of FY15 appropriations after the November elections.
On Tuesday, the President announced a major plan to scale up the whole-of-government effort:
The Administration has also put great emphasis on the importance of working with NGOs and international partners in the field. As the President stated in his speech at the CDC on Wednesday, “we’re not restricting these efforts to governmental organizations; we also need NGOs and private philanthropies to work with us in a coordinated fashion in order to maximize the impact of our response.”
4. Final FY15 Appropriations Hinge on Outcome of November Elections
While House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) has stated that “we’ll do an omnibus” in the lame duck session, the course of action may change depending on the outcome of the midterm elections. If the Democrats are able to hold their majority in the Senate, an omnibus is likely by the end of the year. The bill would adhere to the $1.014 billion top-line for FY15, determined by the Murray-Ryan Budget Deal from last December and would likely maintain funding levels similar to FY14. However, if Republicans win the Senate, which seems increasingly likely, we may see another CR that extends well into next year. This would give Republicans in both chambers additional time to reshape FY15 spending bills based on their priorities as they move toward consideration of FY16 appropriations bills.
Congress also left unresolved several other funding matters, including two requests put forth by the Administration in June and July. The FY14 Emergency Supplemental, which would have provided $3.7 billion to address the migration crisis at the U.S. southwest border, stalled prior to the August recess. The House approved a bare bones, $694 million supplemental (H.R. 5230) but the Senate, after having agreed to limit debate for its $2.7 billion bill (S. 2648), did not proceed to a floor vote.
The Administration’s additional FY15 OCO request to add funds for a Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, the European Reassurance Initiative, and a UN Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, was also left unresolved prior to the recess. All of these matters are expected to be considered as part of a final appropriation for FY15 to be considered after the November elections or in 2015.
And, following a Joint Session of Congress with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation (S.2828) yesterday that would provide Ukraine with $350 million in lethal military assistance, raising prospects for continued debate over a Ukrainian aid package in final FY15 appropriations. All of these matters are expected to be considered after the November elections or in 2015.