ISIS and Ebola Concerns Dominate Mega-Spending Bill
Policy + Politics

ISIS and Ebola Concerns Dominate Mega-Spending Bill

The broad contours of the new $1.1 trillion mega spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year are emerging, underscoring Congress’s preoccupation with the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the campaign to control Ebola in western Africa and the ongoing Russian threat to eastern Ukraine.

With congressional Republicans signaling there will be no year- end budget crisis or government shutdown, House and Senate appropriators met over the weekend to iron out most of their differences with a behemoth fiscal 2015 bill. 

Related: Carter’s War: The Pentagon’s Unbridled Budget

The legislation is almost certain to be passed and sent to President Obama for his signature by week’s end. It provides the lion’s share of funding – more than $600 billion – to the departments of defense and state, according to a House aide. Domestic spending will show little if any growth.

Under the emerging plan, the Pentagon’s underlying operating budget to run the department, pay salaries and finance major contracts will total $490.2 billion. An additional $64 billion of so-called overseas contingency spending would finance the costly wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria, which is up $5.5 billion from the $58.6 billion originally requested by the Obama administration. An additional $9 billion of overseas contingency spending was added to the State Department’s $49.2 billion budget to cover an expanded refugee assistance effort in the Middle East, Politico reported. 

Congress has put off until next year a final decision on whether to provide President Obama with new war powers authority to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Yet lawmakers have noted the urgency of passing new spending legislation to prevent any disruption of the administration’s strategy for pounding the terror group with airstrikes, expanding the number of U.S. military “advisers” to 3,000 and enlisting support from Syrian rebels.

The administration, in the meantime, is slowing down the pace of its promised drawdown of troops from Afghanistan.

Related: GOP Disapproves of Obama’s Immigration Action – Duh!

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Saturday the administration will increase by 1,000 the number of troops the U.S. will keep in Afghanistan next year, citing a recent violent surge of Taliban attacks in Kabul. Obama had once promised to have all troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but neither of the U.S.-supported governments in those countries are close to being prepared to take on the fight without substantial U.S. backing.

The emerging spending deal, with its big emphasis on defense and foreign policy, will leave many domestic programs struggling to make ends meet with either budget cuts or a freeze on last year’s spending levels. These non-defense discretionary programs range from Amtrak and Head Start to federal transportation grants and low-income fuel assistance.

Why This Matters
The huge $1.1 trillion spending bill that will likely pass Congress is focused on lawmakers’ concerns about ISIS terrorists in the Middle East and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s heavy hand in eastern Ukraine. But many Americans may feel the pinch of the new funding package in higher Amtrak ticket prices, less federal fuel assistance or cutbacks in highway and mass transit projects.

While the National Institutes of Health will benefit from new Ebola funding for clinical trials, the institute’s core budget of $29.8 billion is expected to grow by just $150 million – which is hardly enough to keep up with inflation, let alone fund other new research and development. 

Congress is likely to finish up work on the massive spending package by the end of the week. But Republican leaders will have their work cut out for them trying to deter conservative firebrands from spoiling for a fight with Obama in retaliation for his executive order shielding more than four million illegal immigrants from deportation.

Related: Can the U.S. Defeat ISIS Without a War Powers Deal?

House GOP leaders will formally unveil the spending plan late today and send it to the floor for a vote Wednesday. Assuming it passes, the House will send it on to the Senate for a final vote before week’s end. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has already signaled he and other Democratic leaders will support the bill. 

The hybrid legislation will keep most of the government fully operating through next Sept. 30 – the end of the fiscal year – but will extend funding for the Department of Homeland Security only until February.

Immigration officials within DHS will be responsible for implementing the president’s controversial new order, and congressional Republicans want to keep the agency on a short budget leash in case they can come up with new ideas early next year for slowing or blocking implementation.

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