Winners and Losers From the Deal to Avoid a Shutdown

Vice President Biden would not get a pay raise, under the bill. Vice President Biden would not get a pay raise, under the bill. David Lienemann/White House file photo

Federal employees can take a deep sigh of relief, as it appears likely a government shutdown will be avoided.

Congressional appropriators struck a deal late Tuesday to fund most federal agencies through September, setting line-by-line spending levels for the remainder of the fiscal year.

“More than two months into the fiscal year, it’s time we end government on autopilot so we can turn our focus to meeting the day-to-day needs of Americans and long-range needs of the nation,” said respective House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., and Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., in a joint statement.

The $1.01 trillion “CRomnibus” package is expected to move through Congress this week. While the nearly full-year appropriations replace the uncertainty of a continuing resolution with the stability required for long-term planning and new projects at all agencies except the Homeland Security Department, some federal offices and entities made out better than others. Here is a look at who fared the best and worst:

Winners

Federal employees: Not only did feds stave off potential furloughs or having to work with delayed paychecks, the bill would allow for President Obama’s second consecutive 1 percent across-the-board pay raise for the federal workforce. While the salary bump is historically low, it beats the three-year pay freeze that preceded the 2014 increase. Military troops will also receive a 1 percent raise in 2015.

Veterans Affairs Department: Congress would fund VA at $159.14 billion for fiscal 2015, an $11.2 billion increase from what the agency received in 2014. While the funding level would be slightly less than Obama’s request, it includes appropriations for VA to hire additional claims processing and support personnel at regional offices. 

National Institutes of Health: NIH would receive a $30.3 billion budget, a $150 million increase from 2014. That number does not include an additional $230 million allocated to the agency for emergency funding for Ebola research.

Core Obama Initiatives: One year after Republicans shut down the government over Obamacare funding, congressional negotiators agreed, without much fanfare, to fund the health care law at 2014 levels. After talks of major blockades for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill, the impact on the law is relatively minor. While Republicans insisted on short-term funding for DHS, Obama’s recent executive action on immigration came out of the cromnibus bill unscathed.

Losers

Homeland Security Department: DHS has been reduced to a casualty of political gamesmanship, with the agency’s ability to plan for the future jettisoned to make a point. Republicans, furious with Obama for his executive action on immigration, refused to grant full funding for the agency. Instead, DHS will receive funding through Feb. 27 frozen at 2014 levels and without authorization for new projects.

The pretext for the short-term funding is to allow Republicans the opportunity to fight the action once their party holds a majority in both chambers of Congress, but they will carry very little leverage. In the meantime, DHS will be unable to proceed with a number of initiatives including enhancing border security and acquiring new ships for the Coast Guard’s fleet. A DHS spokeswoman said CRs are “disruptive, create uncertainty and impede efficient resources planning and execution.”  

Internal Revenue Service: The IRS once again would see major cuts to its budget. The bill would provide the agency with $10.9 billion for fiscal 2015, a $346 million cut from 2014. Since 2010, the IRS budget has been slashed by $1.2 billion, or 10 percent. Senate Democrats said the funding level fails to provide IRS with the resources it needs, and a union representing IRS workers decried the cuts as “draconian.”

“These continuing cuts are crippling the IRS and costing the government billions of dollars in lost revenue. This is short-sighted, politically-driven budgeting and it needs to end,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Environmental Protection Agency: EPA is another agency making an ominous return appearance on this list. The agency would receive $8.1 billion, a $60 million cut from fiscal 2014. The proposed funding level is a bit of a mixed bag for EPA, as it actually comes in above Obama’s request, and leaves out many of the provisions floated during negotiations to curb the agency’s recent regulatory efforts. Still, the agency has seen more than one-fifth of its budget slashed since 2010, and it would be forced to reduce its staffing levels to their lowest point since 1989, according to House Republicans.

U.S. Postal Service: As is customary, Congress included a rider that is viewed by many as the largest impediment to much needed reform of the agency: USPS must deliver mail six days each week. Lawmakers did not include a provision preventing the Postal Service from moving ahead with 82 scheduled facility closures next year, though a majority of senators and 160 House representatives signed a letter in support of such a prohibition.  Instead, the report on the bill said USPS is “encouraged” to delay the consolidations. In a victory for postal workers, the measure would require USPS to report to congress on its efforts to improve employee safety in light of an influx of robberies and assaults on letter carriers.

Non-Career Federal Employees: While most civil servants will see a pay bump in 2015, top political appointees and Vice President Biden will once again face a pay freeze. Members of Congress also self-instituted a freeze on their own salaries.

Other provisions were of note to federal workers, including prohibiting the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program from covering abortions, a rider included in most spending bills in recent memory. For the second consecutive year, the funding measure would tighten the reins on federal employee travel and agency conference spending. 

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