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FY2016 DoD Appropriations bill stalls in the Senate

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

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Senate Democrats moved last week to block consideration of the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved FY2016 DoD Appropriations bill on the Senate floor. A vote to proceed on the bill failed to gain the necessary 60 votes as 49 Republicans and only one Democrat, Sen. Donnelly (D-IN), voted yes. All 45 other voting Democrats voted against the motion to proceed.

Senate Democrat leaders have been urging Republicans for weeks to begin negotiating a new budget deal that changes sequestration (automatic across-the-board cuts). With no progress toward budget discussions, Democrats vowed to block action to proceed on any appropriations bill in the Senate until budget talks begin. The Defense bill was the first FY2016 appropriations bill to move forward in the Senate.

Democrats are responding to defense authorization and appropriations bills passed in the House and passed (defense authorization) or proposed (DoD appropriations) in the Senate that add about $38 billion in FY2016 defense base budget requirements to funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Republicans employed this mechanism to increase defense funding and get around defense funding caps set in the Budget Control Act.

Under these bills, sequestration levels would not change, resulting in probable cuts to nondefense budgets. Democrats and the White House are against any action that increases defense at the expense of nondefense programs. They want a long-term solution to sequestration, rather than a short-term increase in defense funding, with no such increase for nondefense programs.

To have a sound, secure homeland, we have to make sure that we take care not only of the Pentagon’s needs but the needs of the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) told the Senate during debate.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed to bring the defense appropriations bill again, but has not set a time for doing so. To move the bill forward, But, McConnell would have to get at least six Democrats to vote for proceeding on the bill.

Meanwhile, the White House issued a strong rebuke of the proposed Senate FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill. In a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the president’s senior advisors would recommend a presidential veto if presented a bill that mirrored the Senate bill.

The SAP stated that using OCO funding to get around the budget caps “fails to provide a stable, multi-year budget on which defense planning and fiscal policy are based” and “ignores the long-term connection between national security and economic security and fails to account for vital national security functions carried out at non-defense agencies.”

The SAP also criticizes the bill for failing to approve “many of the needed force structure and weapons system reforms included in the President’s budget, and undermines a new Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.” The administration also strongly opposes provisions in the Senate appropriations bill that set “unwarranted restrictions regarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

Senate passes FY2016 Defense Authorization bill

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

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Last week the Senate passed the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill 71-25. Forty-nine Republicans and twenty-two Democrats voted for the bill. Two Republicans (Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul) joined twenty-three Democrats voting against the bill.

The House passed its version of the defense authorization bill in May 269-51.

The annual Defense Authorization bill authorizes force levels, programs, and policies (including military pay raises) for DoD budgets.  Appropriations bills provide actual funding (appropriations) for DoD.

Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Sen, John McCain (R-AZ) said “the Senate’s overwhelming, bipartisan vote reflects the vital importance of this legislation to our men and women in uniform, especially at a time of growing threats to our national security.”

The Senate bill authorizes a total of $612 billion, including about $485 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) base budget and $89 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). A provision in the bill would allow DoD to transfer $38 billion from OCO to the base budget if defense and nondefense funding caps are revised in legislation.

Senate Democrats had threatened to block a final vote on the bill because it includes additional base budget funding in OCO to get around defense funding caps (set in the Budget Control Act) that could lead to cuts to nondefense programs. They are pushing for a long-term solution to sequestration, rather than a short-term increase in defense funding with no such increase for nondefense programs. However, a vote to cut off debate and move to final passage passed easily.

Both the White House and DoD have been highly critical of using OCO funding to increase defense. The White House has threatened to veto a final defense authorization bill that increases defense funding at the expense of nondefense programs or includes. Defense secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that this approach is “a road to nowhere” that risks the incremental funding approach for OCO.

The Senate bill 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.

Like the House, the Senate bill rejects administration proposals to set enrollment fees for TRICARE for Life beneficiaries or consolidate the TRICARE program, retire the A-10 attack jet fleet, and to initiate another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.

But, unlike the House, the Senate approves the president’s request to reduce the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and to use commissary surcharge funds to purchase operating supplies.

The FY2016 Defense Authorization bill now goes to a House-Senate conference to resolve the differences in the two bills.

Sen. McCain and House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chair Rep Mac Thornberry have said they would move quickly to conference the bill and get it to the president.

I look forward to working closely with Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) as we proceed to conference. We share a commitment to defense reform, and there are broad areas of agreement and consensus in our two bills. I am hopeful we will be able to complete our work sometime next month, and send a good bill to the President’s desk,” McCain said.

McCain stressed that if passed this would be the 53rd consecutive defense authorization bill approved by Congress. 

Air Force announces latest civilian workforce shaping actions

Friday, June 19th, 2015

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The Air Force announced the third round of civilian workforce shaping actions to meet the staffing reduction and headquarters organization goals.

These actions were planned “to eliminate redundant activities, improve efficiencies, and satisfy previous secretary of Defense direction to reduce management headquarters costs and staff levels by 20 percent,” according to an Air Force press release.

Debra Warner, director of the Air Force’s Civilian Force Policy, said “the Air Force is committed to sustaining excellence, meeting fiscal requirements and minimizing negative impacts on our current permanent civilian workforce and their families.”

The Air Force will rely on Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Pay (VSIP) in this latest round that started June 15. The first round was initiated in December 2013 and the second round in March 2014.

Last week employees began receiving VERA/VSIP interest surveys. Their responses are due by June 26. Employees selected for VERA/VSIP programs will have to separate by September 30, 2015.

Warner stressed that although “the Air Force is committed to using voluntary separation programs as much as possible,” reduction-in-force (RIF) may have to be used to meet reduction goals.

RIF procedures are used to “determine overage employee priority placement rights into position, as well as providing flexibility to waive qualifications and provide retained grade and pay if placed in a lower graded position,” according to the Air Force. Bases are set to begin their requests for approval to use FIR procedures if needed.

House passes FY2016 DoD Appropriations bill

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

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Last week, the House passed the FY2016 DoD Appropriations bill, 278-149. The final vote included 43 Democrats voting for the bill and only 5 Republicans voting against passage.

The House bill would provide $490.2 billion for the DoD base budget (excluding military construction) and $88.4 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) in FY2016. The president requested $50.9 billion for OCO.

The House Appropriations Committee earlier said the House OCO funding level, including $38 billion from the base budget, is for ”preparation and operation of our forces in the field, including funding for personnel requirements, operational needs, the purchase of new aircraft to replace combat losses, combat vehicle safety modifications, additional intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets, and maintenance of facilities and equipment.”

The White House and many Democrats argue that including the additional base budget funding in OCO to get around defense funding caps (set in the Budget Control Act) could lead to cuts to nondefense programs and is bad defense budgeting. The White House has threatened a presidential veto of any bill that increases defense funding at the expense of nondefense programs.

House Appropriations Committee (HAC) chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) said the House bill “fulfills our responsibilities to properly fund programs for our warfighters, our military families, our national security, and for the success of our missions both now and in the future.”

The House bill would fund a 2.3 percent military pay raise that is authorized in the House-passed FY2016 Defense Authorization bill. The president’s budget requests a 1.3 percent pay raise for military personnel.

The bill rejects the administration’s proposal to reduce the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and restores $400 million. The bill also would deny the administration proposal to increase commissary prices to pay for operating costs and restores funding for the proposed cut.

The bill rejects DoD’s proposal to retire the A-10 Warthog aircraft and includes $453 million in the FY2016 OCO account to maintain the current A-10 force.

Procurement funding in the bill includes funds to buy 9 ships, 65 F-35 aircraft and 12 KC-46 tanker aircraft, 7 EA-18G Growlers, 5 FA-18 E/F Super Hornets, and 64 AH-64 and 102 UH-60 helicopters.

Major programs receiving R&D funding include: the new Air Force bomber; next generation JSTARS, Navy’s Future Unmanned Carrier-based Strike System; the Ohio-class submarine replacement; and STYKER lethality.

The House rejected a floor amendment by HAC Ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (D-WA) that would have required Congress to vote by March 31 on an authorization to use force to combat ISIL militants. The Congress and the White House have been discussing such an authorization for months without making any progress. Meanwhile, U.S. and allied air forces continue to conduct bombing raids on ISIL forces citing a previous “war powers” authorization and the president has recently ordered an addition 450 U.S. troops to bolster training of Iraqi and other forces.

The House has now passed six of the 12 FY2016 appropriations bills (Commerce/Justice/Science, Defense, Energy and Water, Legislative, Military Construction/VA, and Transportation/HUD) and three more bills (Financial Services, Interior and Environment, and State/Foreign Operations) have cleared the House appropriations committee.

To date, the Senate has yet to consider any appropriations bill, although the DoD bill may go the Senate floor after action is completed on the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill this week. The Senate Appropriations Committee has cleared five bills for floor action (Commerce/Justice/Science, Energy and Water, Homeland Security, Legislative, and Military Construction/VA).

Senate Appropriations Committee approves FY2016 DoD spending bill

Friday, June 12th, 2015

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Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) approved the FY2016 Department of Defense (DoD) Appropriations bill by a vote of 27-3. The SAC bill would provide $489.1 billion for the DoD base budget (excluding military construction).

The bill also provides $86.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) in FY2016. The president requested $50.9 billion for OCO. The SAC bill amount includes a transfer of $36.5 billion from the DoD base budget for operations and maintenance. The committee press release says the transfer is made “to meet the overall defense funding levels requested by the President while avoiding sequestration by breaching the Budget Control Act caps.”

The White House and many Democrats have argued that including the additional base budget funding in OCO to get around defense funding caps (set in the Budget Control Act) is bad budgeting for defense and could lead to cuts to nondefense programs. The White House has threatened a presidential veto of any bill that increases defense funding at the expense of nondefense programs.

Committee chairman Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) said the bill “provides the resources that the President and our military leaders say they need to defend our country and its national security interests.”

The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) bill, approved last week, provides $490 billion for the base DoD budget and $88 billion for OCO.

The SAC bill would fund a 1.3 percent military pay raise as proposed by the president and recommended by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). The HAC bill funds a 2.3 percent military pay raise as authorized in the House-passed FY2016 Defense Authorization bill. The SAC also approves the administration request to allow for slower Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) growth.

The bill also funds a 1.3 percent civilian pay raise requested by the president.

The SAC bill would fund the Defense Health Program (DHP) at $32.5 billion ($400 million below the request), essentially the same level as the House-passed bill.

The bill includes funds to buy 10 ships: two Virginia class submarines; two DDG-51s; three Littoral Combat ships (LCS); an LPD 28 amphibious transport dock; one Joint High Speed Vessel; and one T-AO Fleet Replenishment Oiler. The bill also approves incremental funding for one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer as authorized in the SASC bill.

The SAC bill also provides funding for six additional F-35 aircraft for the Marine Corps and four more F-35s for the Air Force, 12 more FA-18 E/F Super Hornets, and 8 additional MQ-9 UAV Reaper aircraft.

The Committee voted to limit the transfer of National Guard Apache helicopters to 36 in FY2016 until 60 days after a report is submitted by the Commission on the Future of the Army. Final disposition of this issue will be settled in the enacted FY2016 Defense Authorization bill.

Research and development funding additions in the SAC bill include: $143.6 million to develop a new U.S.-made engine for the Atlas V launch vehicle (as an alternative to the Russian-made RD-180 engine); $350 million for development of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) air vehicle; $200 million to complete cyber vulnerability assessments; and $228.5 million for basic non-medical research by the Military Services.

To reallocate funding to higher priorities identified by the Military Services as unfunded requirements and authorized in the SASC FY2016 Defense Authorization bill, the SAC made reductions to 486 programs. These cuts are based on schedule changes, cost growth, and poor budget justification.

The timing of Senate floor action on the bill is uncertain. Some Senate Democrats, led by Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) have threatened to oppose Senate floor action on the FY2016 DoD appropriations bill until an agreement is reached to change the sequestration caps. Democrats could use a procedural move to keep the bill from coming to the floor. Although there is some reluctance among the Democrat rank and file to take such action on a defense appropriations bill, Democrats are considering action to keep the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill (now being considered on the Senate floor) from a final vote.

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