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17 September 2015 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Thursday, September 17, 2015

weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Thursday when Congress is in session.

 

 

 

 

 

★★★

If you thought that Congress’ return to Washington meant swift resolution on the fiscal 2016 defense authorization and appropriations bills, think again. 

With only thirteen days left before the end of the fiscal year, lawmakers are finally discussing how to keep the government funded and running past Oct. 1.  It is certain that they will pass a continuing resolution (CR), but how long will it last?  Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said that the CR would span “a couple months” until “sometime around the end of November [or] early December.”

A short-term CR would be preferable.  An extended CR would be extremely detrimental to the Army, national security and the economy.  The inefficiency created by a CR wastes significant amounts of taxpayer money.  Further, a long-term CR increases the risk to soldiers because it reduces the Army’s flexibility to respond to pressing operational needs.  Finally, it reduces American global stature when we repeatedly demonstrate governmental dysfunction instead of regular order.

That’s the gist of a letter AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., sent to key Congressional leaders this week.  Now, he is asking that you write to your elected officials and reinforce his message. 

Click here, fill out the form and add your voice to Sullivan’s.  We urge Congress to begin negotiations now and find a budget compromise that both chambers can pass and the president will sign into law.

As far as the authorization bill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said that "further communication" had occurred over the August break and "most issues are resolved."

It has been reported that conferees have reached a compromise on one of the major sticking points – the proposed reductions to the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), a subsidy given to service members to defray the cost of off-base housing. 

The House bill made no changes to the benefit, while the Senate voted to allow the defense secretary to increase service members’ out-of-pocket costs from the current one percent to five percent.   The Senate-passed bill would also have limited the housing allowance for military service members who live together or married military couples "who are assigned within normal commuting distance from each other."  This provision angered both Democratic and Republican House conferees.  Sources say that the compromise reached by the conferees would gradually ramp down the housing subsidy by 1 percent per year for five years.

While we may not agree with some of the compromises reached, we firmly support the passage of a defense authorization bill. 

It may not matter though.  Looming over the legislation is a promised veto by the president.  He and congressional Democrats want a compromise that lifts the spending limits for defense and nondefense spending.  Specifically, they are opposed to the GOP’s use of the Defense Department’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) account to evade the Budget Control Act spending caps.  White House officials said the war funding move "ignores the long-term connection between national security and economic security" and warrants a veto.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said that he considers Obama’s veto threat to be a credible one this year. 

Army officials have warned that Congress needs to pass a bill before the end of the year to reauthorize expiring special pays and bonuses.  Otherwise, enlistment and new reenlistment bonuses, hazardous duty pays and incentive pays will stop being paid on Jan. 1.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla, said, "We don't want to go to December.  We want to go ahead and complete it as quickly as we can, get it to the president and move on." 

We agree.