19 March 2015 Legislative News Update

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

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







“A LOT OF PEOPLE don’t realize that since 2010, defense has been cut 18 percent.  It’s actually 24 percent if you count the effects of inflation.  Defense is now 16 percent of the federal budget, and yet it has had to absorb 50 percent of the cuts under the Budget Control Act.  And the world is not 18 or 24 percent safer now than it was when the Budget Control Act passed.”  Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, Chairman, House Armed Services Committee, March 16, 2015.

Way to go, Rep. Thornberry!

MCHUGH ON BUDGET: ‘WE NEED TO STOP TALKING, START ACTING’  “We must have an end to sequestration this year,” Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh testified Tuesday before the House Armed Services Committee. “We need to stop talking and start acting.”

McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno testified along with other service leaders before the House panel that largely supports an end to sequestration and a rise in defense spending over the caps set in 2011. 

There is nothing new in an anti-sequestration message from Army leaders but the warnings are becoming more frantic.  McHugh calls sequestration “an enemy here at home” and warns Army personnel levels, already considered by many to be too low, “will be reduced to unconscionable levels” if Congress fails to prevent or reduce the sequestration.  Cuts, if they happen, would begin in January.

“Our Army, your Army, faces a dark and dangerous future unless the Congress acts now to end these ill- conceived and inflexible budget cuts,” Hugh said. “I want to be very clear here: every installation, every component, and nearly every program will feel the brunt of these cuts.”

The Army needs a minimum of 980,000 soldiers, McHugh said.  That would be 450,000 active-duty troops, 335,000 in the Army Guard and 195,000 in the Army Reserve. 

Under sequestration, the Army could end up with only about 25 percent of the force considered combat-ready, down from already low 33 percent measured today, Odierno said.  The Army needs to be 70 percent combat ready, a process that requires money for equipment and spare parts, and money and time for training, Odierno said.

“If something bigger happens, we will not be able to respond in the way people expect of us,” Odierno said.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS have unveiled a spending plan that uses a budgetary gimmick to get the Defense Department more money, but not everyone is sold.

The idea from the House Budget Committee would result in a $617 billion defense budget for fiscal 2016, including the base budget and overseas contingency operations funding, without technically breaching the $523 billion defense cap set in the 2011 Budget Control Act.  This is roughly equal to what President Obama requested, and would be about $38 billion over the 2015 budget.

The White House budget provided the extra money to defense by breeching the 2011 budget caps.  The House Budget Committee plan technically follows the 2011 limits because it holds the base budget to $523 billion but increases the overseas contingency budget from the $51 billion requested by the White House to $94 billion.  The total ends up about $1 billion more than the Obama budget.

The additional funds would be set aside in a reserve fund to be spent on things not in the base budget but not directly tied to overseas contingency operations. “It is vital that we ensure robust funding for national defense while maintaining overall fiscal discipline. In our budget, we do so by prioritizing our national defense and the needs of our men and women in uniform – providing resources through the creation of the Defense Readiness and Modernization Fund,” the committee explained.

It did not take long for members to weigh in.  Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Tex., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said he would have preferred to boost base budget accounts rather than relying heavily on the OCO budget to make up for any shortfall in defense spending.

Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, said that the use of war accounts is a "surrender" to sequestration.  "That doesn't provide the consistency level that is necessary for the Department of Defense," he said.

Thornberry and thirty-one other GOP members of the Armed Services Committee Republicans urged the Budget Committee to set national defense funding at $577 billion for fiscal 2016, about $54 billion more than the mandated spending limits and $16 billion above the Obama administration’s request.  That figure did not include $51 billion for OCO.

Before the resolution was even released, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain called the budget resolution’s OCO a “gimmick.”

It appears the push-back from defense hawks worked.  Facing the prospect of an open revolt, the House Budget Committee is poised to adopt an amendment that adds more money to the defense account.  While their move may satisfy the defense hawks, it may rile the fiscal conservatives.