The Spending Bill’s Biggest Losers

By Eric Katz

January 15, 2014

After reaching a compromise spending measure for the remainder of fiscal 2014, lawmakers celebrated another rare breakthrough of bipartisan accord critical to creating stability for the government and the American public.

For individual agencies, however, the deal is a mixed bag.

While the appropriations bill unveiled Monday and under consideration by Congress this week restored funding to several agencies throughout government after a year of across-the-board cuts, many more agencies were left without the full spending levels their advocates say they need to accomplish their missions.

The Internal Revenue Service, for example, retains the majority of the sequestration cuts imposed on the agency in fiscal 2013, bringing its funding below 2009 levels. 

“Continued underfunding of the IRS means refunds will be delayed, taxpayers will sit on hold and tax help will be available to fewer and fewer Americans,” said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, adding that reductions over the last several years have forced the IRS to cut 8,000 employees.

The Transportation Security Administration also did not receive a full restoration of funding, receiving $225 million less than its pre-sequestration fiscal 2013 total. The bill would cap full-time TSA screeners at 46,000. House Republicans held a hearing on Tuesday to promote hiring of private-sector contractors to provide airport security.

While the U.S. Postal Service -- which receives very little congressional appropriations -- is largely unaffected by the spending bill, lawmakers included a rider that prevents the agency from adopting its plan to eliminate Saturday mail delivery. The bill mandates USPS maintain six-day mail delivery, despite pleas from postal officials to allow the schedule change as a way to save $2 billion annually.

“Adjusting delivery frequency continues to be one of the fundamental elements of our five-year business plan to restore the Postal Service to long-term financial stability and is widely supported by the American public, according to numerous polls,” said Patricia Licata, a Postal Service spokeswoman. USPS is still hoping for a comprehensive overhaul from Congress that would include the ability to switch to five-day delivery.

The spending bill appropriates money to all federal agencies on a line-by-line basis, following the blueprint established in the December budget compromise forged by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. That measure rolled back sequester cuts by $63 billion over the next two years, but left in place a majority of the cuts. Here are a few more agencies and departments that failed to have their funding fully restored:

Defense Department: The Pentagon essentially will retain the same post-sequester level spending it operated under for most of fiscal 2013. The appropriation is $29 billion less than the department’s fiscal 2014 budget request.

Environmental Protection Agency: The EPA received $300 million more than its post-sequester spending cap in fiscal 2013, but the $8.2 billion appropriation is still more than $140 million less than it was originally provided pre-sequester last year.

Homeland Security Department: Congress restored a significant amount of cuts to the department, but most of that money went to Customs and Border Protection and cybersecurity initiatives. In addition to sustained cuts at TSA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would absorb reduced spending caps and a request for three new headquarters buildings was rejected.

Education Department: While some of the sequestration cuts were restored to Education, the department still would receive $793 million less under the omnibus than it received in its original fiscal 2013 budget. Lawmakers declined to fund President Obama’s universal pre-school proposal.

Federal Aviation Administration: The FAA received enough funding to stave off furloughs, which it began to implement last year before congressional intervention, but its fiscal 2014 budget still would fall $168 million below its original fiscal 2013 allotment.

Small Business Administration: SBA would receive $116 million less than its pre-sequester funding total.

National Institutes of Health: You could call NIH a winner in the omnibus bill, as it receives a $1 billion spending boost from last year. Its total budget, however, is still more than $700 million less than its pre-sequester funding.

Congress: The House would maintain its fiscal 2013, sequester-level spending total. Lawmakers restored full funding to the Capitol Police.

By Eric Katz

January 15, 2014