WASHINGTON – While you were celebrating the start of the new year, Congress was still trying to clean up matters from the end of 2012. Here’s a quick look at what got passed in the waning days of Congress, what didn’t, and what it means for troops and veterans in the months ahead:
What got passed
** A partial fiscal cliff deal: It took until New Year’s Day, but Congress managed to reach an agreement on extending most of the expiring tax breaks and delaying sequestration spending cuts. Without the deal, deep military spending cuts would have been mandated starting this week.
** The annual defense authorization act: The $633 billion budget bill, approved by both chambers before Christmas, sets spending priorities for the current fiscal year and finalizes a 1.7 percent pay raise for servicemembers starting this week.
** Veterans legislation: Amid the other chaos, Congress found time to finalize a measure authorizing new education counseling for troops and veterans, and another that would create a registry of illnesses related to burn pits to track long-term health issues.
What didn’t get passed
** A solution to sequestration: The fiscal cliff deal only delays billions in mandated defense spending reductions until late March. Lawmakers will resume fighting over how best to pay for those cuts – or avoid them entirely – when the new legislative session begins.
** A new debt ceiling deal: Even before the new sequestration deadline hits, the federal government will have to deal with a debt limit extension. Treasury officials estimate that special spending measures to deal with that ceiling will be exhausted in early February. Last time Congress fought over this issue, lawmakers threatened to shut down all government operations, including non-war military activities.
** A new federal budget: The White House’s plans for the fiscal 2014 budget are expected in early February, but Congress never finalized its plans for the current year (even though fiscal 2013 started in October). The continuing resolution funding government operations expires March 27.
The legislative action means that troops, veterans and their families shouldn’t see any disruption to government programs and services this month. But next month could be a different story.
Without a long-term budget deal, and with the sequestration still looming, military watchers are still in much the same place as they were at the end of 2012: waiting to see what the political infighting means for their livelihoods.