4 February 2015 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Wednesday, February 04, 2015

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







THE ARMY would get a $7 billion increase in its base budget for 2016 under the Obama administration plan submitted to Congress this week.  The increase primarily goes to operations, maintenance and weapons modernization programs.

The administration requests $147 billion for the Army in fiscal 2016, $2 billion less than the current budget in a reduction resulting from reduced funding for contingency operations.

For fiscal year 2015, the Army received $121 billion in the base budget and $28 billion in operating contingency funds.  For fiscal 2016, the administration proposes boosting the base budget to $127 billion while cutting the contingency budget to $21 billion.

The 2016 budget was announced Feb. 2, at a time when the Army has 140,000 soldiers serving in 150 foreign countries, and with nine of the Army’s 10 active divisions having headquarters actively engaged in ongoing operations.

The modest boost for the Army is part of a decision by the administration to ask Congress for a 2016 defense budget that is $38 billion over spending caps set in the Budget Control Act, something that will require consent from lawmakers.  While the Army would receive $7 billion more than current spending, the budget would provide a $16 billion increase for the Air Force and an almost $12 billion increase for the Navy, according to Defense Department briefing charts.

Forty-five percent of the Army’s base budget goes for personnel costs, with 36 percent for operations and maintenance and 18 percent for weapons programs.  Spending on personnel is flat, even though the Army expects to be smaller in 2016, a result covering the cost of modest increases in pay and benefits.  The budget includes a 1.3 percent basic pay hike, an average 1.2 percent increase in housing allowance and a 3.4 percent increase in subsistence allowance.

Active-duty personnel levels would drop from 490,000 today to 475,000 by Oct. 1, 2016, under the plan.  Army National Guard strength, now 350,200, would drop to 342,000.  Army Reserve strength would remain at 198,000.

There is $16.1 billion allocated to Army weapons procurement in the budget request, up from $13.9 billion in 2015.  Increases are spread over aircraft, missiles, track vehicle and ammunition programs, but Army officials said a top priority is modernizing Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopter fleets in support of the Aviation Restructuring Initiative, a controversial topic where an independent commission could end up deciding details and timing.

Ninety-four Black Hawks, 64 Apaches and 39 Chinooks would be purchased in 2016, an increase from the 87 Black Hawks, 35 Apaches and 32 Chinooks funded in 2015.  Money also is included to buy 450 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and upgrades for 87 Strykers.

FORMER SEN. BOB KERREY, along with other members of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday about the recommendations contained in their report released last week. 

Kerry said his work on the panel changed his mind that personnel costs were spiraling out of control.  He highlighted Social Security and Medicare as bigger, more expansive entitlements that require changes to address the deficit.

"That's just crushing all the appropriations accounts," Kerrey said. "It would be unfair to identify military retirement as the big problem, because it isn't.  The big problem is Social Security and Medicare."

For that Sen. Kerrey, we give you an AUSA salute.

In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, “We honor the service and sacrifices of service members and their families – active duty, Guard, and Reserve – and we pledge to keep their well-being foremost in our thoughts as we deliberate the Commission’s recommendations.  But upholding our sacred obligation to them does not mean resisting change at every turn.  We must not shrink from the opportunity before us to create a modern system of compensation and retirement benefits that would provide greater value and choice for those it serves.

McCain also said that, “The military’s current compensation and retirement systems are decades old, and in their current form, may be less than suitable for modern-day military members.  Today, we have a nearly 70-year-old military retirement system, and TRICARE, the military’s health program, was implemented in the mid-1990’s.  Both the retirement system and TRICARE were appropriate for their time, but clearly times have changed.  We are here today to learn how the Commission’s recommendations could make compensation and benefits better for the military members and families of our current force and forces of the future.

AUSA is still studying the 300 page report to determine the good and bad.  There are some things that look good such as grandfathering the current force, but giving them the option to opt in, financial literacy training to teach Soldiers how to better manage their money, more child care on military installations and an increase in transition assistance are both winners.

However, we are continuing to closely examine other recommendations such as those that would dramatically overhaul the current retirement and military health care systems before we weigh in.  We are also eager to see how the Defense Department will respond when they provide their take to Congress in early April. 

THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE held a confirmation hearing today for Ashton B. Carter, the Defense secretary nominee.  Conventional wisdom is that Carter will be easily confirmed for the position.  He would be the administration’s fourth defense secretary. 

THE CLAY HUNT SUICIDE PREVENTION FOR AMERICAN VETERANS (SAV) ACT was passed in the Senate yesterday and is headed to the president for signature.  This AUSA-supported legislation will ensure VA’s mental health and suicide prevention efforts receive crucial independent, third party oversight while creating a greater accounting of available services and fostering an enhanced community approach to delivering veterans suicide prevention and mental health care treatment. 

It is named after Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Clay Hunt, a Marine sniper who died by suicide in 2011.