Although much progress has been made on defense-related legislation, it will come to a halt as Congress heads into the Memorial Day recess. Here is an update:
NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT (NDAA) FOR FISCAL YEAR 2017
House The House passed the $602.2 billion NDAA on May 19 by a vote of 277-147. The legislation uses $18 billion in money from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to fund items not included in the president’s budget request such as additional military personnel, new weapons and facility improvements. If the House plan prevails, this budgetary maneuver would mean that the new president would be forced to come back to Congress seeking additional funds for the remainder of fiscal 2017. The White House has issued a veto threat in response.
The legislation includes major reforms to the military health care system, a 2.1 percent pay raise for military personnel, changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, changes in leave policies granted to service members for the birth of a child and a requirement to study women registering for the draft.
What’s next: The House will now sit and wait for the Senate to pass its measure. Once that happens, representatives from both chambers will be appointed to a conference committee to resolve disagreements on the bill.
Senate The Senate’s bill is currently on the floor for debate and passage. While GOP leaders hoped to finish it before the Memorial Day recess, Democratic leaders had other ideas. They forced Republicans to file a cloture petition thus delaying the start of debate. The delay will not give Senators enough time to finish the bill before recess.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that his caucus needed time to study the bill.
The $602.2 billion bill includes major reforms to military health care and a pay raise for military personnel; however, the Senate elected to follow the DoD budget request and provide a 1.6 percent pay raise. The bill also rejects the increased end strength levels adopted by the House and would require women sign up for the draft unlike the House bill.
However, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., filed an amendment Wednesday that would add $17 billion to the OCO account to pay for additional troops for the Army as well as the higher pay raise of 2.1 percent.
The additional money would also add 36 UH-60 Blackhawk and 17 LUH-72 Lakota helicopters for the Army.
In a statement, McCain said the extra spending would “reverse short-sighted cuts” and “halt dangerous reductions to the end strength of the military services. Our military commanders have been warning for years that arbitrary defense spending caps and misguided defense cuts are putting the lives of our warfighters at greater risk,” he said. “We cannot change course soon enough. This amendment is the Senate’s opportunity to do just that.”
What’s next: Because of the procedural delay by Democrats, debate on the bill will not begin until after the Memorial Day recess. Once it has passed, a conference committee will iron out the differences.
Bill prognosis: Good. The annual defense policy bill has passed for 54 consecutive years; however, look for an election-year standoff with the White House and the Senate – Republican and Democrats – over how best to fund the military in the final months of the Obama administration.
DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS BILL FOR FISCAL YEAR 2017
House The defense spending bill was voted out of committee on May 17. Following the lead of the House Armed Services Committee, lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee agreed to take money from the OCO account to pay for items in the base budget.
The legislation provides $517.1 billion in discretionary funding – an increase of $3 billion above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $587 million below the president’s budget request. It also provides $58.6 billion in OCO funding.
Committee members also agreed that the military is too small. The legislation includes $132.6 billion to provide funding for an additional 5,000 troops for the Active Army, 8,000 troops for the Army National Guard, and 7,000 troops for the Army Reserve.
The bill fully funds the authorized 2.1 percent pay raise for military personnel.
The Defense health program would receive $34 billion for base requirements – $1.7 billion above the fiscal 2016 enacted level and $559 million above the request.
Included in the legislation is $209.2 for operations and maintenance to support key readiness programs to prepare troops for combat and peacetime missions, including flight time and battle training, equipment and facility maintenance, and base operations.
Within this amount, the bill includes an additional $6.4 billion above the administration’s request to fill readiness shortfalls, $1.6 billion to invest in facility sustainment, restoration, and modernization programs, and $753 million for additional depot maintenance.
What’s next: The bill will head to the House floor for debate and a vote after the Memorial Day recess.
Senate The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee approved its version of the $574.5 billion Pentagon spending bill this week. Lawmakers agreed to stick to the bipartisan budget agreement reached last year.
The bill would provide $515.9 billion in base spending and $58.6 billion for the OCO account.
The bill provides:
· $212.5 billion for operation and maintenance accounts. Within this amount, $150 million is provided above the request to invest in facility sustainment, restoration, and modernization programs.
· An additional $2.45 billion available for transfer to the Services to improve military readiness, including increased training, depot maintenance, and base operations support.
· Funding for a 1.6 percent pay raise.
· $367 million for fifteen additional Blackhawk helicopters.
· Funding for end strength levels requested by the Pentagon.
· $187 million for twenty-eight Lakota helicopters.
· $900 million for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account.
· $60 million for Army Guard and Reserve Humvee Ambulances.
· $34 billion for the Defense Health Program.
What’s next: The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the bill today.
Bill prognosis: Not so good for passing the defense bill as a stand-alone bill. Although House and Senate leaders have said repeatedly that they intend to pass all 12 appropriations bills on time, reality will set in.
Congress hasn’t passed all 12 appropriations spending bills through both the House and Senate since 1994. Since then, they have only been able to agree on a few of the bills, before time runs out and they lump the rest of the spending bills into a last-minute omnibus package.
It’s an election year. The House and Senate will be in session 111 and 148 days this year respectively. The legislative calendar is cut short this year as both major political parties convene their presidential nominating conventions starting the second week of July 3. Additionally, neither side of the aisle will be enthusiastic about passing legislation that might give their opponent something to use against them on the campaign trail.
MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS’ AFFAIRS (VA) FUNDING BILL FOR FISCAL 2017
House The bill passed the House on May 19 by a vote of 295-129. The legislation contains $81.6 billion in funding – $1.8 billion above the fiscal year 2016 level – to house, train, and equip military personnel, to provide housing and services to military families, to maintain base infrastructure, and to support veterans’ benefits and programs. Of this funding, $63.3 billion was provided via an advance in the fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill last year.
Within this total, $73.5 billion is provided for the VA – a 3 percent increase above fiscal year 2016 levels – including additional funding to address management problems and health care shortages, and to increase the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of its services to veterans.
Military construction totals $7.9 billion, $250 million above the President’s request, to fund family housing, construction of hospitals and health facilities, and support for critical overseas investments.
Senate The Senate’s bill passed on May 19 by a vote of 89-8. The bill provided $83 billion in discretionary funding, $3.2 billion above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. In addition to discretionary funding, the bill provides $102.5 billion in mandatory compensation and pension funding for the VA. The bill also provides $66.4 billion in fiscal year 2018 advance funding for veterans health care and $103.9 billion for fiscal year 2018 advance funding for the VA’s compensation and pensions mandatory accounts.
What’s next: The House and Senate bills will head to conference committee to iron out any differences.
Bill prognosis: Good. The popular bill is one of the individual spending bills more likely to be signed into law.