House Panel Set to Adopt $611.8 Defense Bill

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A House committee is poised to approve a $611.8 billion defense budget during a marathon session Wednesday, and appears likely to adopt Obama administration plans to cut Army active, Guard and reserve personnel levels in fiscal year 2016.

The topline of the budget is roughly equal to the Obama administration’s request after House and Senate budget negotiators found a way around Budget Control Act spending caps that could have forced lawmakers to chop the budget by 6 percent. The tentative budget agreement adds $38.3 billion to the overseas contingency operation account, which does not count toward the budget caps, which can be used to pay for programs not necessarily related on ongoing operations.

Some of the added money goes to help the Army, directly and indirectly. There is $136.8 million for additional Army Guard aircraft, $110 million for enhancement in Apache helicopter survivability, $55 million to restore funding for active-duty Army flying hours and $43.9 million to restore flying hours for the Army Guard.

An indirect assist for the Army is $682.7 million for the maintenance and operation of the A-10 Thunderbolt, a close air support aircraft beloved by ground troops that the Air Force wants to retire.

There had been talk of allocation of some of the $38.3 billion is additional funds to slow or even halt the Army’s drawdown, but the House committee does not seem so inclined. However, there is an effort underway in the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold the active-duty Army at the 490,000 soldiers authorized for 2015.

The House version of the defense policy bill accepts the Obama administration plan to cut 15,000 active-duty soldiers in fiscal year 2016 while also cutting 8,200 soldiers from the Army National Guard and 4,000 soldiers from the Army Reserve. Those changes were endorsed last week by the military personnel subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, despite reservations by some members about the wisdom of continuing to cut the Army below the currently authorized 490,000 active, 350,200 Army Guard and 202,000 Army Reserve levels.

The Army is the only service taking big cuts personnel cuts in 2016. The Marine Corps loses 100 active-duty and 300 Marine Reserve members under the Obama administration plan. The Navy gains 5,600 active-duty sailors and 100 reservists. The Air Force is slated for a 7,735 increase in active-duty strength—3,715 directed by the House panel—in addition to gaining 500 people in the Air Guard and 2,100 in the Air Force Reserve.