House passes $649.2 billion defense spending bill

House passes $649.2 billion defense spending bill

Thursday, September 1, 2011

House approves defense spending bill. After three days of debate, the House passed a $649.2 billion defense spending bill (H.R. 2219) for Fiscal Year 2012. The bill passed 336-87.

The bill would provide $530.5 billion for the Pentagon, $8.9 billion less than President Obama requested but $17 billion more than Fiscal Year 2011 levels. 

It also includes $118.7 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is approximately $40 billion less than current funding.

The bill provides:

Funding for a 1.6 percent military pay raise

$32.2 billion for the defense health program

$5.9 billion to purchase 32 F-35 jets but includes no money for an alternate engine

$453 million for production of the M1A2 SEP Abrams tank.  Members rejected White House efforts to temporarily cease production of the tank and provided $272 million more than Obama requested.

Approximately $10 billion for missile defense programs

An amendment that would prohibit prisoners currently held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from being transferred to the United States was adopted as well as one that would prohibit the use of funds to implement a training curriculum for military chaplains related to the repeal of the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy.

The House also adopted a series of amendments aimed at boosting spending for research on post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, prostate cancer and illnesses affecting veterans of the first Gulf War.

Next Action:  The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee is still holding hearings related to their version of the defense spending bill. 

Because the Senate has not adopted a Fiscal Year 2012 budget resolution that would set top-line spending limits, most of their work will remain on hold. 

Changes come to GI bill. Last year’s lame duck session of Congress approved a major overhaul of GI Bill benefits. 

Although the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvements Act was signed into law in 2010, the benefits did not take effect until Aug 1.

For veterans and their transferees, the law:

Simplifies the tuition and fee rates for those attending a public school and creates a national maximum for those enrolled in a private or foreign school;

Pays all public school in-state tuition and fees;

Caps private and foreign school costs at $17,500 annually.

For active duty members and their transferees, the law:

Creates a national rate for those active duty members enrolled in a private or foreign school pursuing a degree;

Pays all public school in-state tuition and fees;

Caps private and foreign school costs at $17,500 per academic year (an academic year begins Aug. 1);

Allows VA to pay MGIB (Chapter 30) and MGIB-SR (Chapter 1606) ‘kickers,’ or college fund payments, on a monthly basis instead of a lump sum at the beginning of the term;

Prorates housing allowance by the student’s rate of pursuit (rounded to the nearest tenth).  A student training at a rate of pursuit of 75 percent would receive 80 percent of the BAH rate.

Will no longer pay break or interval pay under any VA education benefit program unless under an executive order of the president or due to an emergency, such as a natural disaster or strike. 

This means that when the semester ends (e.g. December 15th), the housing allowance is paid for the first 15 days of December only and begins again when the next semester begins (e.g. Jan. 10) and is paid for the remaining days of January. 

Students using other VA education programs are included in this change. 

Allows reimbursement for more than one "license or certification" test (previously only one test was allowed);

Allows reimbursement of fees paid to take national exams used for admission to an institution of higher learning (e.g., SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT);

Allows those who are eligible for both Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Chapter 31) benefits and Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) benefits to choose the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s monthly housing allowance instead of the chapter 31 subsistence allowance.

On Oct. 1, 2011, students will be allowed to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill for:

Non-college degree (NCD) programs:  Pays actual net cost for in-state tuition and fees at public NCD institutions.  At private and foreign institutions, it pays the actual net costs for in-state tuition and fees or $17,500, whichever is less.  It will also pay up to $83 per month for books and supplies.

On-the-job and apprenticeship training:  Pays a monthly benefit amount prorated based on time in program and up to $83 per month for books and supplies.

Flight programs:  Per academic year, it will pay the actual net costs for in-state tuition and fees assessed by the school or $10,000, whichever is less.

Correspondence training:  Per academic year, it pays the actual net costs for in-state tuition and fees assessed by the school or $8,500, whichever is less.

A housing allowance is now payable to students (other than those on active duty) enrolled solely in distance learning.  The housing allowance payable is equal to ½ the national average BAH for an E-5 with dependents.  The full-time rate for an individual eligible at the 100% eligibility tier would be $673.50 for 2011. The new benefit will also allow students on active duty to receive a books and supplies stipend.

For more information on these changes, visit the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Web page at or by call 1-88-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551).