12 November 2015 Legislative News Update
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Thursday when Congress is in session.
DEFENSE-RELATED LEGISLATION MOVES THROUGH CONGRESS
Four pieces of vital legislation are shaping the Army’s future. Here is a rundown:
Congress recently-passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, a measure that provides budget stability for two years at funding levels above the 2011 Budget Control Act and sequestration. It also suspends the debt limit until March 2017, thus avoiding a default on America’s debts.
The agreement raises defense and non-defense discretionary budget caps by $25 billion each in fiscal 2016 and $15 billion each in fiscal 2017 with a total price tag of $80 billion. It would add Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding at $16 billion above the president’s fiscal 2016 request, for a total of $73.5 billion and also sets fiscal 2017 OCO funding at $73.5 billion.
The downside: the measure provided the Defense Department with $5 billion less than the president’s budget request and the GOP’s budget proposal; however, it does stabilize the defense budget and will provide some certainty for the department.
The upside: because the agreement raised both defense and non-defense spending, the White House and Democratic lawmakers dropped their opposition to the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In the end, House and Senate lawmakers amended and then passed a revised NDAA which included the $5 billion cut.
The Army loses about $450 million in readiness-related authorization funds as a result of the cuts.
The readiness cuts—$250 million from active-duty accounts and $192.6 million from the National Guard—are part of a deal that allows the 2016 defense budget to grow by $33 billion over 2016 rather than the $38 billion increase requested by the Obama administration and preferred by many defense hawks in Congress. The result is an overall defense budget, including overseas contingency operation funds, of about $599 billion, with about $126 billion allocated to the Army and its various components.
With the adjustments, the Army is authorized about $26.8 billion in the base budget for operations and maintenance of the active force, $2.7 billion for the Army Reserve, and $7 billion for the Army National Guard. An additional $11 billion in operations funding for the Army is in the overseas contingency budget.
The revised budget also includes about $16.3 billion for Army procurement, with $5.8 billion allocated to aircraft procurement. The Army will receive about $7.1 billion for research and development. The single biggest adjustment made in the budget to shave the $5 billion was a $1 billion reduction in fuel and energy costs that is expected to have no real impact on the military because of lower fuel prices.
The NDAA, as revised, still calls for the Army to drop by about 15,000 active-duty soldiers in fiscal year 2016, along with an 8,200 reduction in the National Guard and a 4,000 reduction in the Army Reserve.
UP NEXT: DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS
Lawmakers have now turned their attention to funding the government either by passing the 12 annual appropriations bills or, more likely, passing an omnibus spending package. Regardless of the vehicle they choose, the measure must be passed by Dec. 11 to avoid a government shutdown. Their only other recourse would be another continuing resolution which is not an attractive option for the Defense Department.
A potential vehicle for the omnibus bill would be the fiscal 2016 Military Construction/ Veterans’ Affairs bill which easily passed the Senate earlier this week. The House approved their version back in April. The measure is the first stand-alone appropriations bill amended, debated and passed on Senate floor since 2011.
The measure would allocate $79.74 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Pentagon construction projects. This amount is $7.9 billion above the fiscal 2015 funding level and $1.0 billion over the president’s fiscal 2016 budget request.
The bill, which passed 93-0, included amendments that would:
§ Increase the VA's prosthetic research funding by roughly $9 million,
§ Require the VA, in coordination with the Pentagon, to contract with a third party to study the link between combat service and suicide rates among service members and veterans,
§ Bar funding to pay for the relocation or transfer of VA senior executives,
§ Add $37.6 million for Air Force construction projects,
§ Boost VA Medical Services by $1.97 billion, and,
§ Increase funding for Arlington National Cemetery by $30 million for road projects that would promote expansion.
The Senate’s approval of the Military Construction/VA bill is an encouraging sign that lawmakers will be able to agree on a full-year omnibus spending bill. Earlier in the year, Democrats had blocked the measure from coming to the Senate floor. Now, with the new two-year budget deal in place, it appears likely that lawmakers will have funding for the government in place before the Dec. 11 deadline.