After a month of negotiations, the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees unveiled a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill this week funding the government for the remainder of fiscal 2014.
The 1,000-page bill, which staves off the threat of a shutdown after the current stopgap funding measure expires at midnight Wednesday, sets agency spending levels and directs important policy and program priorities.
Pay and benefits
The spending bill modifies a provision from last month’s bipartisan budget agreeement that reduced cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees by 1 percentage point. The spending bill, which directs about $486 billion to the Defense Department overall, exempts medically retired military retirees as well as their survivors from the COLA reductions, “while Congress re- examines the impacts to other military retirees,” according to a Senate summary of the bill.
The bill also “fully funds” a 1 percent pay increase for the military as requested by President Barack Obama in his 2014 budget proposal.
Meanwhile, the bill also grants a 1 percent pay boost to about 230,000 federal blue-collar workers under the wage-grade system. Federal civilian employees under the General Schedule were already eligible for a 1 percent raise at the beginning of the year under an executive order signed by Obama last month. However, the pay increase for wage-grade employees required separate legislation.
The spending bill does keep in place a pay freeze on the salary of the vice president and Cabinet secretaries falling under the executive shedule system.
IRS budget declines again
The Internal Revenue Service is one of the few agencies getting the short end of the budget stick in the bill. The bill provides a total of $11.3 billion for the agency — about $526 million less than what Congress provided in 2013 before sequestration went into effect. In fact, the bill “maintains the majority of the sequestration funding cuts for the IRS,” a House summary of the bill stated.
The agency’s budget is now lower than fiscal 2009 levels, according to the House summary.
The bill directs IRS to maintain employee training programs, including topics on taxpayers’ rights and the impartial application of tax law, among other areas. The bill also requires the agency to report extensively on training and bonuses. The bill also blocks the IRS from producing videos unless approved by the ageny’s video editorial board. Last year, the IRS got into hot water for spending millions on employee conferences between 2010 and 2012, including spending more than $50,000 for a Star Trekparody video.
Colleen Kelley, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, blasted the IRS funding levels.
“In the face of severe budget cuts and reduced personnel in recent years, what is needed is a true investment in the IRS, not more of the same,” she said in a statement.
Just last week, the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate, in its annual report to Congress, said that “chronic underfunding” at the agency have put the IRS’ ability to meet its mission at risk.
Since 2010, the agency’s budget has fallen by about $1 billion and staff levels have declined by about 8,000 employees. The White House proposed $12.8 billion for the IRS in its 2014 budget request.
Bill reaffirms six-day postal delivery
The bill includes a longstanding measure requiring the U.S. Postal Service to continue delivering mail six days a week and at the same level of service provided in 1983, according to the bill text.
Last year, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe announced the agency would end first- class mail delivery on Saturdays, while continuing to deliver packages in a bid to save $2 billion a year.
However, that ran afoul of legislative language later included in a spending bill passed by Congress, and the Postal Service backed down from its proposal.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the author of a House postal reform bill and a supporter of ending Saturday delivery, wrote to the House Appropriations Committee last month, requesting that the forthcoming spending bill not include the provision blocking service changes.
Still, a wide swath of House members remain stauchly opposed to changing Saturday delivery. A nonbinding resolution introduced by Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) last January calling for the continuation of current delivery levels, has garnered 206 co-sponsors, including more than 30 Republicans.
The omnibus spending bill also blocks the Postal Service from consolidating or closing small and rural post offices in fiscal 2014.