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On the Hill – Money is front and center as a topic of discussion

Friday, June 28, 2013

The annual slog to completion of the defense authorization and appropriation legislation has begun.

The House Armed Services Committee begins its mark up and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs has marked up its bill.

The MilCon-VA bill would provide $152.8 billion, $1.4 billion over the enacted FY 2013 level but almost $1.4 billion less than the president’s budget number. VA gets $63.1 billion, MilCon gets $9.9 billion, VA medical gets $43.6 billion and there will be an advance appropriation for FY 2015 of $55.6 billion.

The appropriations chairman, Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said the bill will help the VA create a joint, unified health record for the Department of Defense and the VA as well as reduce the veterans’ benefits claims backlog.

As seems always the case at this time of year, money is front and center as a topic.

The administration is asking Congress for reprogramming authority for $9.6 billion of FY 2013 money that is needed in areas other than originally programmed.

At the same time, the administration submitted its overseas contingency request for FY 2014. That number comes in at about $79.5 billion. Although the force levels in Afghanistan are expected to be half of this year’s, the amount requested is only 10 percent less.

The Comptroller General sent a memo to Congress explaining that military intelligence, reimbursements to allies and costs related to U.S. military bases do not decline in direct proportion to the troop strength decline.

In other appropriations news, the House Appropriations Committee chairman is circulating an appropriations spending blueprint, called 302(b) allocations that would reduce defense spending by only about one percent while cutting spending for the rest of the government by 17 percent. That mix is unlikely to be acceptable to the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Senate will soon begin its authorization and appropriations process as well. As befits the "world’s greatest deliberative body," the machinery moves much more slowly on that side of Capitol Hill.

This agonizing process, unfortunately, often drags on into the fall as political maneuvering competes with the necessity of finishing the funding dance before the October beginning of the next fiscal year.

That notwithstanding, based on past performance, it seems unlikely that Congress will have its funding work completed by the end of this fiscal year, but hope, as they say, springs eternal.

So there is a long road ahead, but AUSA will be monitoring the process closely and will make our voice heard if the issues our constituents care about are not properly addressed.