DoD on the Hill

Senate passes FY2016 Military Construction/VA appropriations bill

Friday, November 13th, 2015


This week the Senate passed the FY2016 Military Construction(MilCon)/Veterans Affairs appropriations bill by a vote of 93-0.  The House passed its version of the bill in April.

The bill provides $80 billion for FY2016 MilCon/VA discretionary appropriations, over $2 billion more than the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in May and $1 billion higher than the president's request.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC), commending the bipartisan work of the committee and the full Senate, said the bill “is the first stand-alone appropriations measure amended, debated,and passed in the Senate since 2001. This year also marks the first time since 2009 that all 12 appropriations bills were approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

This is the first FY2016 appropriations bill to pass in the Senate and also in both the House and Senate. The House has passed six FY 2016 appropriations bills but, until now, Senate Democrats have kept appropriations bills from coming to a vote on the Senate floor through procedural means. Last week they blocked consideration of the FY2016 Department of Defense Appropriations bill.

However, after a budget agreement was reached last month Senate Democrats now appear ready to move forward on FY2016 appropriations. However, because of concerns over possible policy riders (such as defunding Planned Parenthood) proposed by Republicans on separate appropriations bills, Democrats want to put all 12 appropriations in one omnibus appropriations bill. They supported the FY2016 MilCon/VA bill as a possible vehicle for such an omnibus bill.

Congress returns from the Veteran's Day recess next week with four weeks remaining until the Continuing Resolution (CR) funding the government expires (December 11). The question is: Can Republicans and Democrats agree on an omnibus appropriations bill in that time or will another CR be needed to provide time to reach agreement? Or will we be brought to the brink of government shutdown once again?

House passes FY2016 Defense Authorization bill adjusted to align with budget agreement

Thursday, November 5th, 2015


Today the House passed by a wide margin (370-58) a revised FY2016 National Defense Authorization bill that meets the parameters set out in the budget agreement.

The revised bill aligns FY2016 defense funding with the agreement by adjusting the total DoD amount downward by $5 billion.

The new bill provides almost $607 billion including about $580 billion for total DoD, $18.6 billion for the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program and $7.6 billion to meet the statutory requirements for DoD Concurrent Receipt payments.

The new bill cuts added amounts in the original bill by almost $1 billion, including $250 million for Army readiness, $192.5 million for Army National Guard readiness, $150 million for the DDG-51, and $100 million for PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement. The bill also increase cuts made in the original by by over $700 million including $455 million more for planned DoD headquarters streamlining.

Additional reductions of $855 million include $262.5 million for Army civilian hiring targets, $100 million to classified programs, $90.1 million for unjustified growth in the Defense Information System Network, and $50 million for reduced THAAD purchases. The bill also increases cuts to fuel purchases by $1.1 million due to lower fuel prices.

The revised bill also reduces Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding by $782 million, including a $250 million cut to the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, $100 million to coalition support, and $125milion to the Syria train and equip program.

No other changes were made to the original bill. It still includes a 1.3 percent military pay raise, reforms to military compensation and retirement, and significant reforms to defense acquisition.

The House-passed bill still contains a provision that prevents the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo. The White House had identified this provision as a reason for a veto threat of the earlier bill. In a press conference White House Press Secretary John Earnest did not rule out a possible veto of this biil because of the Guantanamo language, but did say that in any case the president was moving forward with a plan of action to close the prison.

House passes bipartisan agreement on debt ceiling and FY2016-17 budgets

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015


Today the House passed (H.R. 1314) a bipartisan budget agreement (266-167) that would increase the debt ceiling and set budget levels for the next two years. Seventy-nine Republicans joined 187 Democrats in voting for the agreement.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called the agreement “a good deal for our troops, for taxpayers, and for the American people.” Boehner said the agreement “will protect our economy” and secure more long-term entitlement reforms.” In addition, he said the agreement “strengthens our national security and brings more certainty to next year’s appropriations process.”

The White House has indicated that the president will sign the bill.

This agreement comes just before the debt ceiling will be breached next week (November 3 according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew) and the Continuing Resolution, which is funding the federal government, runs out on December 11.

Completing the deal was a goal of outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) before he left office. Boehner is set to retire on October 31.

The “Bipartisan Budget Act” would suspend the debt ceiling until March 2017, in effect allowing the government to borrow as much as it needs until then. At that time the debt ceiling would have to be raised.

The new total government funding levels would be $1.067 trillion in FY2016 and $1.070 trillion in FY2017.

Setting new budget levels for 2016 and 2017 will put off the next sequestration battle until after the 2016 elections.

Funding increases would be offset by cuts coming from reforms to the Disability Insurance Trust Fund and Social Security, such as closing loopholes and requiring medical reviews Medicare and extending the Medicare sequester into 2025. Some other savings would come from changes to the crop insurance program and sales form the Strategic Oil Reserve.

The new funding limits (in effect raising the spending caps) provides an additional $80 billion equally divided between defense and nondefense in FY2016 and FY2017, but keeps sequestration in place after that. As a result of the deal, Democrats and the Republicans get some of, but not all of what they wanted. Democrats did not get their desired long-deal that dealt with sequestration, but got matching increases for nondefense spending in 2016 and 2017. Republicans got defense increases in 2016 and 2017 and achieved some entitlement reform, but did not get cuts to nondefense programs.

Defense base budgets would be raised by $25 billion in FY2016 under the agreement. Funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account would be increased by $8 billion in FY2016. These increases replace the Republican backed approach to use the OCO fund for base budget activities, highly criticized by the White House and congressional Democrats and the major cause of a presidential veto of the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill. This agreement should allow Congress to revise the bill to make a presidential signature more likely.

The deal would also stops a potential 52 percent increase in Medicare premiums for some 8 million enrollees. This has been a priority for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and many Republicans and Democrats.

If the bill passes the Senate, as is likely, appropriators will move to finish action on the 12 FY2016 appropriations bills before the CR runs out on December 11. House Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) said “it is my goal to complete our Appropriations work ahead of that date to avoid any more delays, continuing resolutions, or ‘shutdown showdowns’ that hurt important federal programs, our economy, and trust in the Congress.”

President vetoes FY2016 Defense Authorization bill

Friday, October 23rd, 2015


Yesterday, President Obama vetoed the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1735), which passed congress early this month. The president has threatened to veto defense authorization bills throughout his presidency, but this is the first time he has actually taken the veto pen to the defense bill.

Although the president identified opposition to provisions in the bill about detainees at Guantanamo and Congress’ failure to approve requested defense reforms, the main reason for the veto is White House opposition to $38 billion of base budget requirements that the bill includes in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). OCO funding is considered emergency funding not constrained by the budget caps.

The president and most Democrats oppose this approach because they believe it circumvents the budget act to increase defense spending and could lead to significant cuts to nondefense programs.

In his veto statement, the president called this use of OCO to fund defense base budget requirements “an irresponsible budget gimmick” and charged it “does not provide the stable, multi-year budget upon which sound defense planning depends.” This sentiment has been echoed by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Congressional republicans called the president’s veto irresponsible. House Armed Services Committee chair Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said the veto was unprecedented and reckless and that the House would move to override.

It is uncertain, but unlikely that Republicans will be able to garner enough votes to override the veto. While some Democrats voted for the final bill in both the House and Senate, Democrat leaders believe they have enough votes to thwart any effort to override.

Both the House and Senate need a two-thirds vote to override the president’s veto. Rep. Thornberry announced the House will hold an override vote in early November. If the override fails in the House, a Senate vote cannot hold an override vote.

If Congress does not override the veto, the bill will go back to the committees to try to work out a bill that the president will sign.

This is President Obama’s fifth veto, a historically small number of vetoes for a president. Congress did not override any of the other four Obama vetoes.

Congress passes FY2016 Defense Authorization bill, awaits presidential veto decision

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015


Today the Senate passed the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill (70-27) that reconciles the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The House passed the conferenced bill last week (270-156).

The Senate vote sets the stage for a presidential veto that the White House has threatened ever since the House passed its version of the bill in May.

Although the president has expressed strong opposition to provisions about detainees at Guantanamo, the main White House concern is the $38 billion of base budget requirements that the bill includes in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is considered emergency funding not constrained by the budget caps. Defense Secretary Ash Carter recommended that the president veto the bill. Earlier this year Carter told the Senate Appropriations Committee that this approach “risks undermining support for a mechanism – OCO – meant to fund incremental costs of overseas conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.”

If the president vetoes the bill and the veto is upheld in Congress, the bill would go back to the House and Senate Defense Authorization Committees.

The conferenced bill authorizes a total of almost $612 billion, including about $496 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) base budget and $89 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). OCO funding includes $50.9 billion requested by the administration and $38 billion in base budget requirements for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) readiness requirements.

The bill also includes $18.6 billion for the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program. An additional $7.6 billion is provided to meet the statutory requirements for DoD Concurrent Receipt payments.

The agreement approves the president’s request for a 1.3 percent military pay raise, lower than the 2.3 percent military raise included in the House-passed bill.

The bill rejects most of the administration’s proposals for TRI-Care pharmacy co-pays, but does approve an increase in co-pays for brand name and generic medications. Conferees also approved the president’s request to reduce the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) by one percent each year for four years.

The agreement denies the administration’s plan to retire the A-10 attack jet. It also rejects a proposal to initiate another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round, but directs the preparation of a capacity study that reflects the current threat and “makes conservative assumptions about future end strength.”

The conference report includes reforms to military compensation and retirement. Under the agreement, new service members would be automatically enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) with a matching contribution from DoD starting in FY2018. The bill also would allow retirement-eligible servicemembers to take from 25 percent to 50 percent of their retirement benefit in a “lump sum.”

The agreement also includes significant reforms to defense acquisition. The bill calls for streamlining the acquisition process by advancing critical decisions, reducing the number of legal certifications, and giving acquisition program managers greater flexibility to address programmatic risk. The bill also makes permanent the “Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund,” requires workforce training on the commercial market, and authorizes expedited authorities for hiring and training the acquisition workforce.

The conference report also includes a provision allowing post commanders to establish procedures (by December 31, 2015) for servicemembers to carry firearms for self-defense on DoD installations, reserve centers, and recruiting centers.

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