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Senate passes and sends FY2015 Appropriations and Defense Authorization bills to president

Monday, December 15th, 2014

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The Senate has passed and sent to the president the FY2015 Appropriations bill that funds the Department of Defense Appropriations bill and 10 other bills (including Military Construction /VA) through the end of FY2015. The bill also funds the Homeland Security Appropriations bill under a continuing resolution (CR) through February 27, 20015.

The Senate passed the $1.013 trillion government funding bill 56-40 Saturday after defeating moves by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) designed to stop the bill from proceeding to a final vote. The House had passed the bill 219-206 on Thursday. The president indicated he will sign the bill, thus averting a government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) acknowledging the compromise cooperation between Democrats and Republicans needed to finish the bill said “this bill is not perfect, but we can all be proud that we voted tonight to make America more secure, put our government on more sound footing than when this Congress began.”

Funding in the bill for DoD base appropriations, less Military Construction, totals almost $490.2 billion, about $1 billion less than the request. Military Construction appropriations funding (in the MilCon/VA bill) is $6.6 billion, essentially the same as the request.The bill also provides $64 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

The bill provides funding for a 1% percent military pay raise. But, it freezes freeze pay for general and flag officers and makes a 1 percent reduction in the Basic Housing Allowance (BAH). The conference agreement adds about $200 million to the Defense Commissary Agency funding request to maintain operations.

The legislation includes about $850 million to refuel the USS George Washington, denying the administration’s plan to defer a decision on refueling until the FY2016 budget. The bill also funds continued operations of A-10 aircraft and continues operations of the full Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). The administration had proposed retiring both of these aircraft.

The Senate also approved (89-11) the FY2015 Defense Authorization bill, which the House passed earlier this month. The president is expected to sign the bill.

The Carl Levin and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015,” named after the Senate and House Armed Services Committee chairmen, authorizes $495.9 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) and $17.5 billion for the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program.  The bill authorizes an additional $63.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

The legislation authorizes a 1 percent military pay raise, requested by the president. However, the bill rejects proposed changes to TRICARE fees, deductibles, and pharmacy co-pays, but does authorize a $3 increase in pharmacy co-pays for prescriptions filled in non-military treatment facilities by non-Active Duty TRICARE beneficiaries.

The authorization bill rejects the administration-proposed 5 percent cut to Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), opting instead for a 1 percent reduction in BAH. The bill also rejects another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2017 that was urged by the administration. In recent years Congress has repeatedly rejected administration requests for another BRAC round.

The bill also denies the administration proposal to defer a decision on refueling the USS George Washington, providing almost $800 million for support and advance planning for refueling the aircraft carrier, prohibits the Air Force from retiring or preparing to retire the A-10 aircraft fleet in FY2015, and stops the Air Force from retiring any Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) in FY2015.

In a major organizational move, the conference agreement creates an Under Secretary of Defense for Business Management and Information that combines the positions of Deputy Chief Management Officer (DCMO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Before adjourning this week, the Senate will move to complete action on a number of pending nominations proposed by the president and legislation extending for one year tax provisions set to expire at the end of the year. These so-called “tax extenders” include research and development tax credits (highly popular with business), state and local sales tax deductions, tax credits for energy efficient homes, and bonus depreciation tax credits. 

House passes FY2015 appropriations for DoD and 10 other bills; CR for Homeland Security bill

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

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With the Continuing Resolution (CR) on FY2015 funding set to expire at midnight, the House passed a $1.013 trillion FY 2015 Appropriations bill that funds the Department of Defense Appropriations bill and 10 other bills (including Military Construction /VA) through the end of FY2015.

The Homeland Security Appropriations bill, subject to intense debate after the president announced an executive order on immigration, is funded in the bill under a CR through February 27, 2017. This action will allow the Republican-controlled 114th Congress time to address concerns about the immigration order.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill tomorrow. To avert a shutdown until the Senate acts both the House and Senate approved a two-day CR.

This bill is being referred to as a CRomnibus appropriations bill because it is a combination of full-year appropriations for 11 appropriations bills and a two and a half month CR for the Homeland Security bill.

After a day of high drama that included a razor thin vote (214-212) approving the rule to proceed to a final vote and an almost seven hour recess, the House passed H.R. 83 by 219-206. Fifty seven Democrats joined 162 Republicans in supporting the bill. Defections from the bill included Republicans unhappy that the bill did not more strongly rebuke the president’s order on immigration and Democrats who were outraged over provisions that changed the Dodd-Frank law regarding banks trading financial derivatives and relaxed restrictions on campaign contributions by individuals.

The final bill was the result of intense conference negotiations between the House and Senate Appropriations committees. The House had passed its version of the bill in June and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill in July.

In a joint statement House Appropriations Committee (HAC) chair Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Senate Appropriations chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said “this bill fulfills our constitutional duty to fund the government, preventing damage from shutdown politics that are bad for the economy, cost jobs and hurt middle class families. While not everyone got everything they wanted, such compromises must be made in a divided government.”

Funding in the bill for DoD base appropriations, less Military Construction, totals almost $490.2 billion, about $1 billion less than the request. Military Construction appropriations funding (in the MilCoN/VA bill) is $6.6 billion, essentially the same as the request.The bill provides $64 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

The bill provides funding for a 1% percent military pay raise as proposed by the president, but freezes freeze pay for general and flag officers. It also allows for a 1 percent reduction in the Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) growth (the administration proposed a 5 percent cut). The conference agreement adds about $200 million to the Defense Commissary Agency funding request to maintain operations and block the president’s proposed cut to the commissary subsidy.

The legislation includes about $850 million to refuel the USS George Washington, denying the administration’s plan to defer a decision on refueling until the FY2016 budget. The bill also funds continued operations of A-10 aircraft, blocking the administration proposal to retire the A-10 fleet, and continues operations of the full Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), thwarting the administration’s plan to retire some AWACS aircraft in FY2015.

Operations and Maintenance (O&M) funding in the bill totals $161.7 billion, more than $4 billion below the administration’s request. The bill includes finding for a 1 percent civilian pay raise and provides funding increases for facility sustainment (+$900 million) and readiness, depot maintenance, and base operating support shortfalls (+$1.2 billion). Conferees cut $270 million or 2 percent from the information technologies O&M budget request.

Procurement funding in the bill totals $93.8 billion, more than $4 billion higher than the request. Included in the bill’s procurement funding are: two attack submarines and three Littoral Combat Ships; 38 F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) aircraft and 7 KC-46A tankers; and 15 EA-18G Growlers. The legislation appropriates $1.2 billion for National Guard and Reserve equipment not requested by the administration.

The bill includes $63.7 billion for research and development, slightly more than the request. Among the programs receiving R&D funding are: the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV); the long-range strike bomber; and the KC-46 tanker. The conferees also included $225 million for the Rapid Innovation Fund to support small businesses provide “leap-ahead” technologies. The bill also adds $1.3 billion for medical research (including about $100 million for the Ebola crisis) with a special focus on Peer-Reviewed Medical Research and Peer-Reviewed Cancer Research.

The conferees essentially continued language from the FY2014 appropriations bill to prohibit the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to the United States or its territories or the modification or acquisition of facilities used to house detainees and eliminated the 5 percent discount for Military Exchanges sales of tobacco and tobacco-related products.

President Obama nominates Ashton Carter to be Defense Secretary

Friday, December 5th, 2014

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President Obama has nominated Ashton Carter to be the next Secretary of Defense. Carter would succeed Secretary Chuck Hagel who announced his resignation last month. Hagel will remain in the job until Carter is confirmed.

In announcing the nomination, the president said Carter “brings a unique blend of strategic perspective and technical know-how” to the job. The president noted that Carter has served under 11 Secretaries of Defense, in both Republican and Democrat administrations.

If confirmed, as expected, Carter will face significant challenges. American troops are ending the combat mission in Afghanistan, but will transition to advising and training Afghan forces. Efforts to degrade and destroy forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will continue into the future. U.S. participation in the fight against the spread of Ebola involves DoD capabilities. And, DoD is undergoing significant efforts to reform acquisition, develop and improve new capabilities, while maintaining readiness and dealing with continued budgetary constraints. The president said that Carter “is going to be critical to all these efforts.”

Carter has a broad knowledge and significant experience in Department of Defense matters. He served as Deputy Secretary of Defense from December 2011 to December 2013. Prior to becoming Deputy Secretary, he was Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, a post he held from 2009 to 2011.

Before becoming USD (AT&L) in 2009, Carter was chair of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government’s international and Global Affairs department.  From 2006 until 2008, Carter was a member of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s International Security Advisory Board.  Previously, Carter served in the Clinton administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense for international Security Policy from 1993 until 1996. 

During his career, Carter also has been a member of the Defense Science Board (1991-93 and 1997-01) and the Defense Policy Board (1997-01), and co-chaired the Catastrophic Terrorism Study Group.  He was also a Senior Partner at Global Technology Partners and served on the Board of Trustees at MITRE Corporation.

House passes conferenced FY2015 Defense Authorization bill

Friday, December 5th, 2014

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The House passed (300-119) the FY2015 Defense Authorization bill yesterday with bipartisan support.

The “Carl Levin and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015,” named after the Senate and House Armed Services Committee chairmen, was agreed to in conference this week. The House had passed its version of the bill in May. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version in May, but the full Senate had not acted on the bill.

The agreed-to legislation authorizes $495.9 billion in base discretionary budget authority for the Department of Defense (DoD) and $17.5 billion for the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program.  The bill authorizes an additional $63.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

The bill authorizes the president’s request for a 1 percent military pay raise and accepts the president’s proposal to freeze pay for General and Flag officers in FY2015. However, the bill rejects proposed changes to TRICARE, but does authorizes a $3 increase in pharmacy co-pays for prescriptions filled in non-military treatment facilities by non-Active Duty TRICARE beneficiaries. The bill also provides an additional $100 million in subsidy funding for the commissary system, restoring the administration proposed reduction

The conferees reduced the administration-proposed 5 percent cut to Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to 1 percent. The bill also rejects another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2017 that was urged by the administration.

The bill also rejects other savings proposals made by the administration. The House-Senate bill denies the administration proposal to defer a decision on refueling the USS George Washington until the FY2016 budget. Almost $800 million is provided in FY2015 for support and advance planning for refueling the aircraft carrier.

The bill also prohibits the Air Force from retiring or preparing to retire the A-10 aircraft fleet in FY2015 and stops the Air Force from retiring any Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) in FY2015.

The legislation authorizes $1.25 billion for National Guard and Reserve equipment (not requested by the administration) and blocks the Army’s plan to move AH-64 Apache helicopters from the National Guard to active components in FY2015.

In a major organizational move, the conference agreement creates an Under Secretary of Defense for Business Management and Information that combines the positions of Deputy Chief Management Officer (DCMO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO). Currently, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, supported by the DCMO and staff, assumes the CMO roles and responsibilities.

The Senate will consider the bill next week.

CBO deficit reduction options include cuts to defense spending and federal pay raises and retirement plans

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

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The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has identified a series of options policymakers can take to address the continuing high level of federal budget deficits and the growing federal debt. CBO issues such deficit reductions options annually.

In “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2015 to 2024” CBO describes 79 options to reduce the deficit including spending cuts to mandatory and discretionary programs and revenue increases.  Included in the report are 10 options affecting the Defense of Defense (DoD) budget that range from caps on pay raises and pensions and cost controls on military health care to specific program cuts and cancelations.

Regarding military compensation, a CBO option would cap increases in military basic pay at .5 percent below the increase in the Employment Cost Index (ECI), saving $24 billion from 2016 to 2024. Current law requires military pay increases to be set at the projected full increase in the ECI, unless adjusted by the president or the Congress. 

CBO also proposes a cap on federal civilian pay raises.  Current law sets annual civilian pay raises at .5 percent below the increase in the ECI, unless adjusted by the president or the Congress.  The CBO option would reduce the pay raise called for under law by .5 percent, saving $54 billion for the entire government. 

Another CBO option would replace 80,000 military personnel performing so-called “commercial jobs with 53,000 civilian employees. This option, according to CBO, would allow DoD to cut military end-strength by 80,000 and could save $21 billion from 2016 to 2024.

CBO options would also affect military and civilian retired pay. One option would eliminate concurrent receipt of retirement pay and disability compensation for disabled veterans. Currently, military retirees who have disabilities as a result of combat and those retirees who have a VA disability rating of 50 percent or more receive full retirement pay and disability compensation (concurrent retirement and disability pay), without a dollar-for-dollar adjustment to retirement pay for their disability pay. The CBO proposal would end this concurrent receipt saving $112 billion from 2016-2024.

CBO also proposes consideration of cuts to military and federal civilian pensions. Currently military annual retired pay is based on the average of the servicemember’s basic pay over the 36 months of their career with the highest pay. Civilian retired pay is based on the average individual’s pay over the three consecutive years with their highest earnings. The CBO option proposes that military retired pay be based on a 60-month average and civilian retired pay on a five-year average. This option would apply to personnel who retired in 2016 and after and would save $2.5 billion in military retired pay and $3.1 billion in civilian retired pay from 2016-2024.

CBO options affecting military health care programs include both cost controls and benefit limitations. One option would increase enrollment fees, copayments, and deductibles for working age military retirees using TRICARE, saving $20 billion from 2016-2024. Under the second option, working age military retirees and their families would not be eligible for TRICARE Prime, but would allow them to enroll in TRICARE Standard (fee for service plan) or Extra (preferred provider network) at a premium that is 28 percent of the average cost. This option would save $76 billion over the 2016-2024 period.

Four CBO options affect specific DoD programs: F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; Ford Class aircraft carriers; ballistic missile submarines; and the New Long-Range Bomber.

One CBO option would cancel the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and buy the most advanced versions of the F-16 for the Air Force and the F/A-18 for the Navy and Marine Corps, saving $41 billion from 2016-2024. Another option would end the Ford Class aircraft carrier construction program with the completion of the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, authorized in 2013, saving $20 billion.

CBO also proposes an option cutting the number of submarines in the SSBN force to eight in 2021 by retiring one Ohio-class submarine a year during 2016-2021, saving $21 billion from 2016-2024. The beginning of the Ohio class replacement program would be delayed until 2021. And, a CBO option to defer development of the New Long-Range Bomber until 2015 or later would save $34 billion over the period.

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