8 May 2014 Legislative News Update 

5/8/2014 

weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.




In this issue:

  • AUSA on the Hill
  • House Committee Approves Defense Authorization

★★★
 

AUSA ON THE HILL

AUSA’s position on sequestration and the damaging effect it is having was the main thrust of testimony given by AUSA’s president in a hearing on Capitol Hill this week. 

Joining other military association leaders, Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that “sequestration is having a profoundly adverse effect on the defense of the Nation – and it will do so well into the next decade.”

Sullivan said that “sequestration has set America on a path to reduced military readiness and national security.  Sequestered budgets are rapidly shrinking the nation’s military forces to unprecedented and even unacceptable levels thereby creating unready forces unable to accomplish the tasks assigned by the defense strategy.  All of this while the world security environment is becoming increasingly uncertain and dangerous.”

Sequestration has “created an atmosphere of fiscal desperation that leads to false arguments and false choices when it comes to the compensation and benefits provided to the service members and families who make up the All-Volunteer Force,” Sullivan added.

“Service personnel are now facing even greater uncertainties with force reduction measures and compensation adjustments, Sullivan said.  “America will remain the world’s greatest power only so long as it continues to fulfill its reciprocal obligation to the only weapon system that has never let our country down — our extraordinarily dedicated, top-quality, All-Volunteer career force.”

Earlier in the hearing, a panel comprised of the Chairman and members of the Joint Chiefs testified that pay and compensation are only one part of a broader challenge to the Defense Department to maintain the balance the military needs to fight the nation’s wars. 

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said, “We’re working to make sure that the joint force is in the right balance to preserve military options for the nation in the face of a changing security environment and a declining budget. “We’ve been tasked to reduce the defense budget by up to $1 trillion over 10 years while upholding our sacred obligation to properly train, equip and prepare the force.”

The military needs Congress to step forward and help, Dempsey said. “Our recommendations have lacked congressional support -- notably, our request to reduce base infrastructure and retire weapons systems that we no longer need and cannot afford,” the chairman told the senators.  “In the meantime, we are continuing to hemorrhage readiness and cutting further into modernization.  [This means] risk to the performance of our mission and risk to those who serve continues to grow.”

It’s unclear whether or not Congress will heed the Chairman’s plea.  They have remained steadfast in their reluctance to make sweeping changes to military pay and compensation.  During this hearing season, many lawmakers have said they would rather wait for the report from the congressionally-mandated Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, due to be released in Feb. 2015.

However, Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., did say in his opening statement, “We surely must do all that we can to minimize the adverse impact of these proposals.  But as long as the statutory budget caps remain in place, we do not have the option of simply rejecting these compensation proposals.  We would have to make alternative cuts.”

HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL

If the House Armed Services Committee has anything to say about it, many of the proposals outlined in the president’s budget request for fiscal 2015 are dead on arrival.  Despite heavy lobbying from DoD officials on the proposals, committee members were not sold.  Instead, it is apparent that they, too, will wait for the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission report before making any hard decisions. 

In a marathon markup session, the committee completed their work on the $600.7 billion 2015 defense authorization bill (HR 4435).  Overall, the legislation would authorize $521.3 billion in defense funding and would authorize for $79.4 billion for overseas contingency operations.

The committee voted 61-0 to:

§  Reject the proposed consolidation of the military’s TRICARE healthcare program and proposed fee/enrollment increases

§  Reject the Pentagon’s proposal to cut the annual commissary operating budget from approximately $1.4 billion to $400 million over three years.  Instead the committee approved a cut of $100 million for fiscal 2015.  A statement released by the committee Chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said that “efficiencies can be made that reduce the cost of the program without increasing prices. To that end, the Chairman’s mark requires the Department of Defense to consult with outside experts in retail grocery sales to find efficiencies in the commissary system.”

§  Reject the administration’s call for another round of Base Realignment and Closure

§  Prohibit the Army’s plan to transfer Apache helicopters from the National Guard to the active Army

§  Bar the Army from reducing active-duty end strength for fiscal 2015 below 490,000 and National Guard end strength below 350,000

§  Bar pay raises for general and flag officers.  However, the bill was silent on the reduced pay raise for military personnel except to say that “Chairman McKeon supports current law, which mandates an automatic 1.8% annual increase in troop pay.  The President retains his executive authority to make reductions to this pay rate without congressional authorization.”

What disappoints us is the lack of a real effort to address sequestration.  We agree with Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash., who said, “If we continue along this path, and sequestration remains the law of the land, our military readiness will be significantly degraded.  In today’s world, that is unacceptable and it is wholly avoidable, which is why I support ending sequestration immediately.”

What’s next:  It is expected that the measure will go to the House floor for a full vote later this month.  The Senate is expected to write its version in June.