8 June 2015 Legislative News Update
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Thursday when Congress is in session.
CALL TO ACTION! Despite a veto threat from the White House, the Senate kicked off consideration of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill last week.
AUSA has a big problem with some of the provisions approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last month. These include provisions that would only provide a 1.3 percent pay raise instead of 2.3 percent; reduce Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH); reduce funding for commissaries and double TRICARE pharmacy co-pays over ten years.
“The FY 2016 SASC mark proposes a 1.3 percent pay raise cap (vs. a 2.3% raise mandated by law). This would be a third straight years of pay caps, with four more years planned. The past three years have had the smallest pay raises in 50 years; this is not the appropriate message to send to our men and women in uniform after 13 years of war,” states a letter sent to the Senate by AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition.
The SASC also adopted language that not only reduces BAH by up to 5 percent for military families, for married servicemembers living together, BAH would be restricted to the spouse of higher rank. Troops living together would be hit with a 25 percent cut in BAH.
The White House came out strongly against this provision (Section 604) yesterday. A Statement of Administration Policy, said that the provision “would restrict BAH for uniformed service members who are married to another member and limit BAH for members who choose to share housing with other members. BAH is a part of every member’s regular military compensation and is designed to provide a cash housing allowance. Section 604 would impose a significant marriage penalty when a member is married to another member. This section would penalize members who choose to reside with other members as compared to those members who choose to reside alone or share housing with nonmembers. This action would seem to conflict with the fundamental fiscal responsibility required of our service members.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing this provision would reduce the monthly BAH for dual-service couples by an average of $1,100 (or $13,200 per year) in 2016.
Commissaries take a hit in the Senate bill. AUSA has joined our partners in the Coalition to Save our Military Shopping Benefits to strongly protest the proposed changes to the commissary benefit. Key lawmakers in the Senate have been notified that we strongly oppose provisions that would:
· Cut $322 million from the commissary funding.
· Authorize an increase in prices across the board to reimburse the appropriation for transportation of products to overseas commissaries.
· Remove the requirement that commissary products be sold at cost and authorizes DoD to raise prices to fund operating expenses.
· Change the requirement of the surcharge to be used only for maintenance, modernization, and building of new stores by adding language that allows for the purchase of operating supplies
· Direct the Secretary of Defense to submit a report on a plan for privatization, in whole or in part, of the commissary system.
· Require a pilot program on privatization on no fewer than five commissaries chosen from the Defense Commissary Agency’s largest U.S. markets.
We have thrown our support behind Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who will introduce an amendment that would change the provisions mandating a privatization plan and pilot program to one that calls for a feasibility study instead.
YOU CAN HELP!! Act now and let your elected representatives know how you feel about these provisions. Visit the AUSA webpage, www.ausa.org, click on the Legislative Agenda link and then click on “Contact Congress”. Enter your zip code and then on the AUSA-suggested letter, “Preserve Our Military Benefits.” Since the bill is on the Senate floor now, time is critical.
The Administration’s main objection to the bill is that it authorizes a level of defense spending next year in accordance with federal spending caps known as sequestration, but circumvents those caps by increasing the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund which is not subject to the spending limits. Earlier this year, GOP leadership added about $40 billion to the war fund to appease defense hawks and secure their votes.
A Statement of Administration Policy released June 2 states, “First, the President has been very clear about the core principle that he will not support a budget that locks in sequestration, and he will not fix defense without fixing non-defense spending. Sequestration levels will damage our ability to restore readiness, advance badly-needed technological modernization, and keep faith with our troops and their families.
“Unfortunately, the bill fails to authorize sufficient funding for our military’s priorities in the base budget, and instead uses Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding in ways that leaders of both parties have made clear are inappropriate. Shifting base budget resources into OCO risks undermining a mechanism meant to fund incremental costs of overseas conflicts and fails to provide a stable, multi-year budget on which defense planning is based. The use of OCO funding to circumvent budget caps in defense spending also ignores the long-term connection between national security and economic security and fails to account for vital national security functions carried out at non-defense agencies.”
In response, Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said, “This legislation doesn't end sequestration, unfortunately. Believe me, our committee would have done so if the NDAA were possible, or capable, of it, but it is not. The NDAA is a policy bill. It deals only with defense and national security issues," he added. "It does not spend a dollar."
HOUSE PANEL APPROVES DEFENSE SPENDING BILL There is progress on another piece of defense-related legislation to report.
The House Appropriations Committee approved a $579 billion defense spending bill for fiscal 2016 which includes a 10 percent boost in equipment procurement, a 3 percent increase for operations and maintenance funding, and enough money for a 2.3 percent military pay raise next year. But it also includes the inflated $88.4 billion Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund.
This bill has also drawn fire from the White House. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan sent a letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., alerting him of his “serious concerns about this legislation, which would underfund these important investments in the base budget and instead rely on budget gimmicks that have been criticized by members of both parties."
The bottom line: As Congress and the White House moves towards a showdown over fiscal 2016 spending, the fate of both the House and Senate defense authorization bills and the House appropriations bill is uncertain. The White House has served notice that it will not approve any additional defense spending unless spending caps are lifted on domestic programs as well.
AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., had said repeatedly that sequestration must end. Budgetary gimmicks will not be necessary once it does. We need to stop talking and start acting.