16 June 2016 Legislative News Update

16 June 2016 Legislative News Update

Senate:  No boost to defense budget

An amendment to the Senate’s defense policy bill that would have authorized additional funds to pay for extra personnel and equipment and a larger pay raise was shot down by Democratic lawmakers after Republicans rejected their call for an equal boost for non-defense accounts.

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain, R-Ariz., wanted authorization to add $18 billion to the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to pay for the items that were not included in the president’s budget request.  However, Democrats refused to go along with him unless their demand for matching funds for non-defense items such as roads, bridges, cybersecurity and law enforcement, was approved.

In the end, both amendments were defeated, largely along party lines.

The Senate’s bill authorizes:

  • A 1.6 percent pay raise.
  • End strength levels requested in the DoD budget. 
  • A requirement that both males and females register for the draft.
  • A 25 percent cut in 4-stars and other flag and general officers.
  • Permanent authority to pay the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance for SBP-DIC survivors.
  • A 25 percent reduction in Senior Executive Service civilians.
  • An increase of $40 million for reimbursement rates for the TRICARE Comprehensive Autism Care Demonstration program.
  • $25 million in supplemental impact aid to local educational agencies with military dependent children and $5 million in impact aid for schools with military dependent children with severe disabilities.
  • Numerous enhancements to military whistleblower protections.
  • $2.6 billion for the procurement of Army aircraft including 52 AH-64 Apaches, 36 UH-60 Blackhawks, and 22 CH-47 Chinooks.
  • $1.2 billion for upgrades to M1 Abrams tanks, M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and Stryker armored combat vehicles.

It also authorized sweeping changes to the military healthcare system such as consolidation of the medical departments with the Defense Health Agency; enrollment fee increases for retirees under age 65; a schedule of increases in pharmacy copays; flat-dollar cost shares for TRICARE Standard instead of the current 20-25 percent of TRICARE-allowed charges; and institution of a charge for missed medical appointments in military facilities. 

Lawmakers did not agree to the committee’s plan to test privatization of up to five commissaries.  An amendment offered by Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., to remove the privatization plan passed by a vote of 70-28.

Another provision included in the committee-approved bill would reduce housing benefits to troops by allowing servicemembers to receive only the actual cost for housing, rather than the housing stipend, which is based currently on rank, geographic location, and dependency status.  

The provision also proposes to reduce the combined value of the housing allowances received by dual military couples and roommates. Servicemembers would receive the applicable housing allowance amount for his or her grade, divided by the number of servicemember occupants.

In response, Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Susan Collins, R-Maine offered an amendment that would strike the provision from the defense bill.

However, their amendment and many others were blocked from consideration over Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee’s objections that his proposal on indefinite detention would not be considered. 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were furious. 

McCain even suggested that the Senate rules needed to change.  “I have reached a level of frustration that I would even consider changing the rules of the Senate that one individual out of 100 can't bring everything to a screeching halt, and that's what's taking place here,” he said.

In the end, the defense policy bill passed by a vote of 85 to 13 and is now headed to a conference committee made up of lawmakers from both the House and Senate.  That committee will iron out any differences between the two bills and will compromise on a final bill to send to the president.  The conference committee will probably not convene until after the September recess.