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114th Congress convenes, eyes Homeland Security CR and FY2016 appropriations process

Friday, January 9th, 2015

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The 114th Congress convened this week with Republicans controlling both the House (246R to 188D, 1 vacancy) and the Senate (54R to 44D, with 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats) as a result of the 2014 Mid-term elections.

The House re-elected Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) Speaker of the House despite the defection of 25 Republicans, twenty-four of whom voted for other candidates, while one voted present. In his brief acceptance speech, Boehner acknowledged these dissenters who disagreed with his perceived lack of commitment to overturning Obamacare and the president’s executive order on immigration. He urged his Republican colleagues to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

In the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) became Senate Majority Leader as Republicans took control for the first time since the 109th Congress (2005-2007) when their majority was 55R to 44D with one Independent.

The 114th Congress has some unfinished FY2015 appropriations business. In December, the 113th Congress passed the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill that funded 11 appropriations bills for the full year. However, the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which was subject to intense debate after the president announced executive action on immigration, was funded under a Continuing Resolution (CR) through February 27, 2017.

The House will open the bidding on the Homeland Security bill next week by moving to pass its version that will include a provision to block the president’s executive action. The House bill may not be acceptable to the Senate and is sure to draw a presidential veto. However, acting almost seven weeks before the CR expires should give Congress time to construct a bill that avoids a shutdown on the Department of Homeland Security.

Regarding FY2016 appropriations bills, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders have expressed their commitment to proceed under regular order. This would mean a process that includes committee hearings, markups, and passage in each chamber followed by a conference agreement for each of the 12 appropriations bills. If this happens, it would be a significant departure from recent years, in which the congressional appropriations review process has been marked by intermittent action that most often concluded with omnibus and mini-omnibus appropriations bills.

However, this enthusiasm for regular order for appropriations bills could be dashed by the specter of sequestration (automatic cuts), which is set to restart again in FY2016. The budget agreement completed in 2013 established budget targets for 2014 and 2015 that set aside sequestration. But, in 2016 sequestration returns and, once again, Republicans and Democrats will have to try to reach a new budget agreement that addresses sequestration.

While there is general agreement on the Hill that sequestration is a bad idea that should be fixed, there continues to be little agreement on how that should be done. Many want to protect defense from significant cuts and others are concerned about the effect of sequestration on nondefense budgets. Speaker Boehner will have problems within his own party in efforts to reach a deal with Democrats. The Tea Party faction of the Republican Caucus will will press hard for additional spending cuts, while pushing for defense increases. It will take more than good intentions to conclude an agreement that can be passed in Congress and be acceptable to the president.

GSA increases mileage reimbursement rate for official travel in 2015

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

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The General Services Administration (GSA) announced that the mileage reimbursement rate for federal employees using privately –owned vehicles during official travel will increase to 57.5 cents per mile from the current level of 56 cents.  The new rate went into effect on January 1, 2015. 

Mileage reimbursable rates also increased for official travel by motorcycle (to 54.5 cents from 53 cents), but decreased for official airplane travel (to $1.29 from $1.31).

GSA annually reviews mileage reimbursement rates.  GSA rates cannot exceed the rate set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for calculating business mileage expenses on tax returns.  

Presidential order implements 1% pay raise for federal civilian employees and military personnel

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

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Beginning January 1, 2015 federal civilian employees and uniformed military personnel will receive a 1 percent pay raise under and executive order issued earlier this month

The executive order sets pay levels for federal civilian employees (executive level, senior executives, and general schedule employees), uniformed military personnel, and judges.  

Tables from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) supporting the executive order list the pay levels by grade/rank and by years of service for each category of pay plan.  The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website includes a detailed explanation of each pay plan and their originating authorities.

In September, the president recommended a 1 percent pay raise for federal civilian and military personnel, reaffirming the raise included in his FY2015 budget request. Congress allowed that raise to go into effect because it did not specifically act to change it in legislation. However, Congress did authorize a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel in the FY2015 Defense Authorization Act.

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, 2015. 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.

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