Today the Senate passed the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill (70-27) that reconciles the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The House passed the conferenced bill last week (270-156).
The Senate vote sets the stage for a presidential veto that the White House has threatened ever since the House passed its version of the bill in May.
Although the president has expressed strong opposition to provisions about detainees at Guantanamo, the main White House concern is the $38 billion of base budget requirements that the bill includes in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is considered emergency funding not constrained by the budget caps. Defense Secretary Ash Carter recommended that the president veto the bill. Earlier this year Carter told the Senate Appropriations Committee that this approach “risks undermining support for a mechanism – OCO – meant to fund incremental costs of overseas conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.”
If the president vetoes the bill and the veto is upheld in Congress, the bill would go back to the House and Senate Defense Authorization Committees.
The conferenced bill authorizes a total of almost $612 billion, including about $496 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) base budget and $89 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). OCO funding includes $50.9 billion requested by the administration and $38 billion in base budget requirements for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) readiness requirements.
The bill also includes $18.6 billion for the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program. An additional $7.6 billion is provided to meet the statutory requirements for DoD Concurrent Receipt payments.
The agreement approves the president’s request for a 1.3 percent military pay raise, lower than the 2.3 percent military raise included in the House-passed bill.
The bill rejects most of the administration’s proposals for TRI-Care pharmacy co-pays, but does approve an increase in co-pays for brand name and generic medications. Conferees also approved the president’s request to reduce the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) by one percent each year for four years.
The agreement denies the administration’s plan to retire the A-10 attack jet. It also rejects a proposal to initiate another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round, but directs the preparation of a capacity study that reflects the current threat and “makes conservative assumptions about future end strength.”
The conference report includes reforms to military compensation and retirement. Under the agreement, new service members would be automatically enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) with a matching contribution from DoD starting in FY2018. The bill also would allow retirement-eligible servicemembers to take from 25 percent to 50 percent of their retirement benefit in a “lump sum.”
The agreement also includes significant reforms to defense acquisition. The bill calls for streamlining the acquisition process by advancing critical decisions, reducing the number of legal certifications, and giving acquisition program managers greater flexibility to address programmatic risk. The bill also makes permanent the “Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund,” requires workforce training on the commercial market, and authorizes expedited authorities for hiring and training the acquisition workforce.
The conference report also includes a provision allowing post commanders to establish procedures (by December 31, 2015) for servicemembers to carry firearms for self-defense on DoD installations, reserve centers, and recruiting centers.