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Defense bills – nothing with Congress is ever easy or clean

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Every December it seems like I report that defense appropriations legislation remains incomplete more than two months after the beginning of the new fiscal year.

This year was no different.

The defense appropriations legislation was tied up in the middle of negotiations between the House and Senate until Dec. 13th, when a compromise agreement was passed and sent to the president for signature.

The compromise resulted in an enormous omnibus funding bill that will fund the government until Sept. 30th 2015.

However, nothing with Congress is ever easy and clean. The omnibus bill funds all of the federal government EXCEPT the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded by a continuing resolution to allow the new congress to have some fiscal say in President Obama’s executive action concerning illegal immigration.

The Army is always far better off with an omnibus bill than a continuing resolution, and AUSA president Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., has contacted both House and Senate leaders to urge them to pass an omnibus appropriation. The defense portion of the omnibus will give the Department of Defense $490.2 billion in base budget dollars and $64 billion in overseas contingency money.

Congress also passed the National Defense Authorization Act legislation on December 12th. It includes a 1 percent decrease in BAH (DoD had asked for a 5 percent decrease), and a one-time $3 increase in pharmacy copays (DoD had wanted a multi-year set of increases). It reduced the commissary subsidy by $100 million but the appropriations legislation restored all but $10 million.

AUSA has fought along with its coalition partners to preclude any copay increases, BAH decreases or commissary subsidy decreases and will fight this coming year to keep any further erosion of benefits.

The bill also establishes a commission on the future of the Army that will study and recommend an appropriate force structure mix between active and reserve components. That report is due in February, 2016.

The president also decided to hold pay increases to 1 percent which after much discussion and dissention between the two houses of Congress, the Congress agreed to. This column will have more details in next month’s issue.

Meanwhile, as AUSA NEWS reported last month, the Association’s 2015 Resolutions have been completed.

The resolutions provide the framework for the Association’s legislative agenda for the coming year.

The 2015 resolutions highlight the fact that these are difficult economic times that will usher in an era of constrained defense spending.

The resolutions warn that Congress must not allow an erosion of benefits – particularly in health care and military retirement – which are crucial to the success of our all-volunteer force.

The resolutions also warn that sequestration is an irresponsible solution to our fiscal crisis.

The automatic, mindless cuts imposed by sequestration put the nation’s defense posture at serious risk and deprive defense leaders of the funding certainty and financial flexibility to properly structure, fund and maintain our armed forces.

AUSA, its members and the American people must ensure that our elected representatives understand that they can no longer delay the difficult decisions that will rid us of the specter of sequestration.

They must adequately and predictably fund a robust military force for the defense of the nation.

Among other actions, AUSA will work for an Army share of the defense budget of at least 28 percent, and for the number of soldiers on active duty in the Army to be sufficient to support national defense strategy, Joint Force and Army mission requirements.

The 2015 Resolutions can be viewed online at www.ausa.org by clicking on Legislative Agenda and then on "Resolutions 2015."

These resolutions will guide the Association’s efforts on the Hill during the first session of the 114th Congress.

We will be calling on you to add your voice to ours as we seek to help our great Army and its members and their families.

So, during this holiday season, the Government Affairs Directorate – Matt, Julie and I – wish you and yours a successful and safe New Year.

We ask that you remember those who serve our nation in the armed forces and especially the families of those who lost their lives or were injured, and consider how lucky we are to live in a representative democracy where political power changes peacefully.