10 March 2016 Legislative News Update
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Thursday when Congress is in session.
Larger Pay Raise for Troops? What was said: “The department’s proposal that would continue to suppress military pay raises misses the mark,” according to Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee during a hearing Tuesday. “For the last three years, this administration has failed to allow service members’ pay to keep up with private-sector wage growth. This is the fourth year in a row where the department is shortchanging service members.”
What it means: Graham’s remarks mirror those of Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. While Graham stopped short of promising a larger pay raise than the 1.6% included in the administration’s budget request, his remarks did suggest that lawmakers would look for ways to provide a bigger pay boost.
Why it matters: AUSA worked tirelessly for more than a decade to close the pay gap. As a result, Congress enacted statutory language explicitly tying annual military raises to those in the private sector, as measured by the Employment Cost Index (ECI).
Should the proposed 1.6% pay raise become law, it will reflect a 5.5% gap between military pay raises and the ECI, resurrecting the pay gap. It should be noted, however, that Congress has the final say on military pay raises, not the administration.
Army ‘Can No Longer Afford’ Best Equipment. What was said: An “unintended consequence” of tight defense budgets is accepting that the Army “can no longer afford to equip and sustain the force with the most modern equipment,” Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology told lawmakers at a hearing last week.
The Army’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for ground force modernization seeks $15.1 billion for procurement and $7.5 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation. The combined $22.6 billion represents a $1.4 billion drop from the FY 2016 budget.
What it means: As Williamson said, “We are forced to selectively modernize equipment to counter our adversary’s most significant technological advances. While other services man equipment, the Army equips soldiers. Even with our modernization budget being at historic lows, our equipping mission remains essential.”
Why it matters: The Army’s flat budget and force structure reductions combined with its expanding global missions is a combination that makes the goal of improving combat readiness dangerously out of reach. Instead, the Army faces a death spiral in which it consumes readiness faster than it can be restored, a situation that needs immediate attention from political leaders.
Senate’s FY17 Budget Resolution Shelved. What was said: “The Senate Budget Committee will continue to discuss the budget as well as improvements to the budget process that would increase fiscal honesty, stability in government operations and the ability to help govern our nation,” said Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., in a statement announcing that the committee would delay consideration of a budget this month.
What it means: Although overall spending levels for 2017 were set in last year’s budget deal, the announcement that the budget resolution will be postponed likely means that Congress will operate without a joint budget framework for fiscal 2017. House Republicans are already facing a standoff between fiscal conservatives and defense hawks over spending levels.
Also, no budget resolution means members will not have to vote on tough issues that could be used against them in the election this fall.
Why it matters: Since the GOP publically stated that their top priority for this year was to pass a budget and return Congress to a functioning institution, their failure to pass a budget blueprint is an embarrassment. Additionally, they would lose the ability to pursue budget reconciliation if both chambers don’t adopt an identical budget.
Reconciliation allows budget-related legislation to move in the Senate with a simple majority vote and avoid filibusters.
No Go On Base Closings. What was said: “Without a BRAC, the Army continues to spend scarce resources to maintain unneeded infrastructure, hurting our highest military-value installations,” said Katherine Hammack, the assistant Army secretary for installations, energy and environment, referring to the Base Realignment and Closure commission. “This is an unacceptable result for the Army and a disservice to American taxpayers,” Hammack told lawmakers last week.
What it means: This is the fifth consecutive year Congress has rejected DoD’s request for authority to close excess military installations. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga., the ranking Democrat on the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing military construction, said, “I have concerns regarding another round of BRAC, but I also have concerns about maintaining infrastructure that we don’t need, because those dollars could go to more pressing needs. He said it was a “very, very difficult” issue for members of Congress.
Why it matters: Hammack said the Army’s needs are great and the budget is small, and excess infrastructure is draining money from higher priorities. The Army has identified about 40 million square feet of unneeded infrastructure that if shuttered would save about $140 million, Hammack said, a savings based on estimates of $3 per square foot to maintain underutilized buildings. That money could go to better places.
“The biggest risk that the Army is taking is in replacing our current infrastructure,” Hammack said. “We have over 52,000 buildings in poor or failing condition right now.”