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29 October 2015 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Thursday, October 29, 2015

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

 

 

 

 

 

★★★
 

 

Question:  Could a two-year budget deal save the recently-vetoed FY16 defense policy bill.

Answer:  It could because the measure would increase non-defense spending as well as defense-spending, a major sticking point for the White House. 

Last week, as promised, President Obama vetoed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.  In a May statement of administration policy, White House officials said that lawmakers’ use of a budgetary gimmick in which the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund was used to increase the base defense budget failed to provide budget stability, did not prevent sequestration, and circumvented budget spending caps for defense while not helping non-defense programs.

A vote to override the veto of the defense authorization bill is scheduled in the House for Nov. 5.  However, it is unlikely they have the votes to support an override.  Earlier this month, the House adopted the conference report by a 270-156 vote, with only 37 Democrats supporting the measure.  That count would be 20 votes short of the majority needed to override a veto, assuming all 435 members of the House are voting.

On Monday, in a move that surprised many, lawmakers unveiled the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 which would provide budget stability for two years at funding levels above the 2011 Budget Control Act and sequestration, while suspending the debt limit until March 2017 which will avoid 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 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 budget agreement provides the Defense Department with $5 billion less than the president’s budget request and the GOP’s budget proposal.  Accordingly, DoD will have to make up the shortfall somewhere.  Still, the agreement stabilizes the defense budget and provides some certainty for the department during a presidential election year. 

Since the Bipartisan Budget Act raises defense and non-defense spending, Democrats who opposed the defense bill could either support a veto override or lawmakers could write a new bill that reflects provisions contained in the budget agreement. 

In any event, a failure to pass a defense authorization bill has serious consequences for the Army.  They would be forced to stop paying new enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses and some other incentive pays on Dec. 31, unless authority is extended.  Even temporary halts to these pays would disturb recruiting and retention programs.

The House approved the bipartisan budget agreement on Wednesday by a vote of 266-167.  It is expected that the Senate will act early next week.  Senator Rand Paul has vowed to filibuster the measure, but general consensus is that the agreement will eventually pass. 

Once the budget agreement passes with new budget caps and the debt limit debate is off the table, then an omnibus appropriations bill becomes more likely prior to the December 11th expiration of temporary funding (continuing resolution), and decreases the likelihood of a government shutdown.  Overall, this is good news for defense, and for the possibility of compromise in our Federal government.