The House passed the FY2016 Military Construction/Veterans Affairs appropriations bill (H.R. 2029). The vote (255-163) was essentially along party lines with 19 Democrats joining 236 Republicans in voting for the bill and four Republicans voting with 159 Democrats against passage.
This bill and the FY2016 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which the House also passed, are the first two appropriations bills to advance in Congress this year.
Before final passage, the House rejected efforts by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) to prohibit the use of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds ($532 million) for base budget requirements. The use of OCO funds for base budget requirements is a key element in FY2016 Budget Resolution as a way of increasing defense while staying within the statutory cap levels, because OCO funding is considered emergency spending.
Most Democrats strongly disapprove of this approach because it could lead to large cuts in nondefense spending. In fact, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) recommending a presidential veto of the bill. The SAP expressed concern that “shifting long-term defense costs to OCO is bad budget policy and bad defense policy, since it undermines long-term planning.” The SAP further stated that the White House “will not accept attempts to fix defense without non-defense by using OCO as a mechanism to evade the defense budget cap.”
The Military Construction portion of the MilCon/VA bill provides $7.151 billion for military construction projects, family housing, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), and the NATO Security Investment Program. This amount is $1.3 billion less than the president’s request. However, $532 million of this reduction was funded in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) appropriation (Navy & Marine Corps $244 million, Air Force $75 million, and Defense-wide accounts $213 million). Therefore, the actual cut to requested military construction programs was $755 million.
The bill also reflects $386.5 million in rescissions from prior appropriations Acts.
The House approved an amendment by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) that prohibits the use of any funds in the bill for a new Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round. The president’s budget request proposes a new BRAC round.