26 February 2014 Legislative Update

26 February 2014 Legislative Update

Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's weekly electronic newsletter, and is published every Monday when Congress is in session.  In this issue:

  • Details Of Fiscal 2015 Defense Budget Released
  • AUSA’S Winter Meeting a Success

 ★★★DETAILS OF FISCAL 2015 DEFENSE BUDGET RELEASEDDefense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey gave reporters a preview of the President’s budget request for 2015 in a Pentagon press conference this week.  The budget will be formally presented to Congress on March 3. The Defense request adheres to the caps for fiscal 2015; however, DoD’s five-year budget plan exceeds spending limits in place for 2016 to 2019 by a total of $115 billion.  Included in the budget are proposals that would: 

  • Reduce the Army’s end strength from 520,000 active duty soldiers down to a range of 440,000-450,000.  The Army National Guard would be reduced from 355,000 to 335,000 while the Army Reserve would drop from 205,000 to 185,000. 
  • Propose a one percent pay raise for military personnel and cap raises in the out years.  Raises for General and flag officers would be frozen for one year. 
  • Cut housing allowances.  Current allowances cover 100 percent of housing expenses.  The proposal would cut that to 95 percent with the remaining five percent coming from out-of-pocket.
  • Abolish the reimbursement of renter’s insurance.   
  • Reduce by $1 billion over three years, the annual direct subsidy provided to military commissaries.   
  • Consolidate TRICARE health plans and adjust deductibles and co-pays.  “We will ask retirees and some active-duty family members to pay a little more in their deductibles and co-pays,” Hagel said.  However, under the plan, “medically retired service members, their families and the survivors of service members who die on active duty would not pay the annual participation fees charged to other retirees and would pay a smaller share of the costs for health care than other retirees,” said Hagel.  No further details were given.   
  • Transfer Army Guard Apache attack helicopters to active duty units in exchange for Blackhawk helicopters. 
  • Request another round of Base Realignment and Closure in 2017. 
  • Kill the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program. 

Although the budget request has not been formally presented to Congress yet, it is already attracting heaps of scorn from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and fellow committee members, J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and Rob Wittman, R-Va., criticized the proposal because it seems to “balance the budget on the backs” of servicemembers. McKeon also said that it would be "foolish" to change military benefits before a report is released on the issue next year while his counterpart in the Senate, Carl Levin, D-Mich., acknowledged that the Pentagon would have a "heavy challenge" convincing lawmakers to adopt some of the budget items.   AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA. Ret., remains concerned about the repercussions the spending cuts mandated by sequestration have caused throughout DoD.  Those repercussions are evident by the reductions in this budget proposal.  Among the repercussions is a growth in the perception that military benefits might be ‘overly generous’ and need to more closely mirror private sector benefits.   Sullivan has made a concerted effort through letters to Congress and media outreach to send the message that the automatic, mindless cuts imposed by sequestration put the nation’s defense posture at serious risk. It is important to remember that the budget release is only the first step in a very long and drawn out process.  The Administration can propose anything it wants.  It is Congress that we must continue to influence!  If the initial remarks made by the members of Congress and their unwillingness to adopt similar proposals are any indication, this budget request faces a long road ahead.  At the same time, we hope they will realize that their incapability to abolish sequestration permanently will only cause future budget requests to be even more radical.   It is imperative that you let your elected officials know where you stand on this.  Go to our website, www.ausa.org, click on the “Contact Congress” button, enter your zip code and then click on the AUSA-suggested letter “Preserve Military and Veteran Benefits.”  AUSA’S WINTER MEETING A SUCCESS AUSA had a very successful Winter Meeting in Huntsville, Alabama.  Representative Mo Brooks, R-Ala., spoke to the assembled guests and Vicki Plunkett, a professional staff member of the House Armed Services Committee served on one of the panels.  Six other staffers from key congressional offices visited the exhibits and spoke with senior Army leaders.