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House passes defense policy bill – Senate will act in Sept.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

“See you in September,” said the House and Senate as they departed Washington for their annual August recess.

Before they left, the House passed its version of the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

Despite the Senate leadership’s best efforts, their version, unanimously passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 28, will wait until they return.

Although a deal was reached between Senate Republican and Democratic leadership to bring defense bill to the floor for debate and passage before recess, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul objected. His office said that he blocked the bill to get an agreement that would allow votes on his amendments on a war authorization and on indefinite detention.

Here are some of the main differences in the House and Senate committee bills:

  • Reduction in Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for dual-military marriages. The House bill does not change the existing law. The Senate bill reduces BAH for dual-military marriages where dependents are involved. The provision would eliminate the with-dependent rate for one of the two spouses.
  • Pay Raise. The House bill would provide military personnel with a 2.4 percent pay raise, equal to the increase in private sector wages, as measured by the Employment Cost Index. The Senate bill recommends 2.1 percent.
  • End Strength. The House bill would increase end strength by: Active Duty: 10,000; National Guard: 4000; Army Reserve: 3000. Under the Senate’s bill, end strength would increase by: Active Duty: 5000; National Guard: 500; Army Reserve: 500.
  • Clarification of Roles of Commanders of Military Medical Treatment Facilities (MTFs) and Surgeons General. Provisions contained in last year’s defense policy bill transferred certain authorities and control from the Military Departments to the Defense Health Agency (DHA) effective October 2018. The House bill designates each MTF commander as the individual responsible for the operation of the MTF they supervise and is responsible for maintaining a ready medical force. The Senate bill would sustain the consolidation of the military health care system.
  • Healthcare enrollment fees. The fiscal 2017 defense policy bill grandfathered the current fee structure for military personnel and retirees. It did increase enrollment fees, deductibles, catastrophic caps, and co-pays for beneficiaries who join the military on or after Jan. 1, 2018.The House bill keeps the grandfathered fee structure; however, the Senate’s bill repeals it. Their explanation: It’s too confusing and too costly.
  • Fee Indexing. Current TRICARE fee increases are tied to the annual COLA percentage. The House bill maintains that fee structure. The Senate wants to index fee increases to a medical inflation index that is projected to grow at close to 6 percent per year.
  • Pharmacy Fees. The House bill keeps pharmacy co-pays indexed to the COLA. The Senate bill triples fees over a 10-year period.

What’s next

Once the Senate passes its defense policy bill, it will head to a conference committee with the House bill.

Conference committee members are appointed by the House and Senate to resolve disagreements between the two versions of the bill.

AUSA will continue to work with key lawmakers and staff in the coming weeks to shape the final version of the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to align with the Army’s top priorities and those issues that protect our members’ interests.