Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) approved the FY2016 Department of Defense (DoD) Appropriations bill by a vote of 27-3. The SAC bill would provide $489.1 billion for the DoD base budget (excluding military construction).
The bill also provides $86.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) in FY2016. The president requested $50.9 billion for OCO. The SAC bill amount includes a transfer of $36.5 billion from the DoD base budget for operations and maintenance. The committee press release says the transfer is made “to meet the overall defense funding levels requested by the President while avoiding sequestration by breaching the Budget Control Act caps.”
The White House and many Democrats have argued that including the additional base budget funding in OCO to get around defense funding caps (set in the Budget Control Act) is bad budgeting for defense and could lead to cuts to nondefense programs. The White House has threatened a presidential veto of any bill that increases defense funding at the expense of nondefense programs.
Committee chairman Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) said the bill “provides the resources that the President and our military leaders say they need to defend our country and its national security interests.”
The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) bill, approved last week, provides $490 billion for the base DoD budget and $88 billion for OCO.
The SAC bill would fund a 1.3 percent military pay raise as proposed by the president and recommended by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). The HAC bill funds a 2.3 percent military pay raise as authorized in the House-passed FY2016 Defense Authorization bill. The SAC also approves the administration request to allow for slower Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) growth.
The bill also funds a 1.3 percent civilian pay raise requested by the president.
The SAC bill would fund the Defense Health Program (DHP) at $32.5 billion ($400 million below the request), essentially the same level as the House-passed bill.
The bill includes funds to buy 10 ships: two Virginia class submarines; two DDG-51s; three Littoral Combat ships (LCS); an LPD 28 amphibious transport dock; one Joint High Speed Vessel; and one T-AO Fleet Replenishment Oiler. The bill also approves incremental funding for one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer as authorized in the SASC bill.
The SAC bill also provides funding for six additional F-35 aircraft for the Marine Corps and four more F-35s for the Air Force, 12 more FA-18 E/F Super Hornets, and 8 additional MQ-9 UAV Reaper aircraft.
The Committee voted to limit the transfer of National Guard Apache helicopters to 36 in FY2016 until 60 days after a report is submitted by the Commission on the Future of the Army. Final disposition of this issue will be settled in the enacted FY2016 Defense Authorization bill.
Research and development funding additions in the SAC bill include: $143.6 million to develop a new U.S.-made engine for the Atlas V launch vehicle (as an alternative to the Russian-made RD-180 engine); $350 million for development of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) air vehicle; $200 million to complete cyber vulnerability assessments; and $228.5 million for basic non-medical research by the Military Services.
To reallocate funding to higher priorities identified by the Military Services as unfunded requirements and authorized in the SASC FY2016 Defense Authorization bill, the SAC made reductions to 486 programs. These cuts are based on schedule changes, cost growth, and poor budget justification.
The timing of Senate floor action on the bill is uncertain. Some Senate Democrats, led by Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) have threatened to oppose Senate floor action on the FY2016 DoD appropriations bill until an agreement is reached to change the sequestration caps. Democrats could use a procedural move to keep the bill from coming to the floor. Although there is some reluctance among the Democrat rank and file to take such action on a defense appropriations bill, Democrats are considering action to keep the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill (now being considered on the Senate floor) from a final vote.