The House passed its version of the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill, 269-151 last week. The vote was primarily along party lines as 228 Republicans were joined by 41 Democrats in voting for the bill. Only 8 Republicans voted against the bill.
The House bill authorizes $515 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Energy (DoE) nuclear weapons program. The authorized amount for the base DoD budget is about $496 billion.
The bill also authorizes $89 billion for FY2016 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding. The president requested $50.9 billion for OCO. The additional $38.3 billion in the House bill is for O&M requirements from the base bill.
Including base funding in the OCO account (considered emergency and not counted against the budget caps) allows the House to authorize $585 billion ($496 billion in base funds and $89 billion in OCO) for DoD in FY2016. This is essentially the same as the president’s request for total DoD funding ($534 billion in base funding and $51 billion in OCO).
Most Democrats strongly disapprove of this approach because they say it could lead to large cuts in nondefense spending. They call for a solution to sequestration that would increase nondefense as well as defense funding.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter also decried the use of this method of increasing defense finding. In his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee Carter said “while this approach clearly recognizes that the budget total we’ve requested is needed, the avenue it takes is just as clearly a road to nowhere.” Carter further said the House proposal “risks undermining support for a mechanism – OCO – meant to fund incremental costs of overseas conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.”
The White House reacted strongly to the House bill issuing a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) that threatened a presidential veto. The SAP expressed strong concerns that “shifting base budget resources into OCO…fails to provide a stable, multi-year budget on which defense planning is based.”
The House FY2016 Defense Authorization bill would provide military personnel with a 2.3 percent pay raise by allowing the current pay raise calculation procedures to go into effect, unless the president recommends an alternative. The president has requested a 1.3 percent military pay raise for FY2016.
The bill also rejects administration proposals to increase commissary prices to pay for operating costs, raise TRICARE fees, and lower the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). The bill denies the administration’s plan to retire the A-10 attack jet fleet and rejects a proposal to initiate another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.
The House bill includes a recommendation from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission that called for a “blended” military retirement system. Under the bill, new service members would be automatically enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) with a matching contribution from DoD starting in FY2018. The servicemember’s contribution (3 percent initially) would be matched by a 1 percent contribution by DoD (that could go up to 5 percent).
The bill also puts forward the first components of a plan to reform defense acquisition. The bill calls for streamlining the acquisition process, reducing the number of legal certifications, giving acquisition program managers greater flexibility to address programmatic risk, providing a “Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund,” and authorizing expedited authorities for hiring and training the acquisition workforce.
The bill also adds funds 12 more F/A 18-F Hornet aircraft for the Navy (+$1.2 billion) and 6 more F-35B aircraft for the Marine Corps (+$1 billion), which were identified by the services as unfunded priorities.
The full House considered more than 135 floor amendments approving all but a few. The House approved a floor amendment that would require the secretary of defense to certify that Army Active end strength levels below 490,000 will support the security strategy. Of broader interest to policymakers, the House rejected a Committee provision allowing children of illegal immigrants to serve in the armed forces in the future.