Last week the Senate passed the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill 71-25. Forty-nine Republicans and twenty-two Democrats voted for the bill. Two Republicans (Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul) joined twenty-three Democrats voting against the bill.
The House passed its version of the defense authorization bill in May 269-151.
The annual Defense Authorization bill authorizes force levels, programs, and policies (including military pay raises) for DoD budgets. Appropriations bills provide actual funding (appropriations) for DoD.
Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Sen, John McCain (R-AZ) said “the Senate’s overwhelming, bipartisan vote reflects the vital importance of this legislation to our men and women in uniform, especially at a time of growing threats to our national security.”
The Senate bill authorizes a total of $612 billion, including about $485 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD) base budget and $89 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). A provision in the bill would allow DoD to transfer $38 billion from OCO to the base budget if defense and nondefense funding caps are revised in legislation.
Senate Democrats had threatened to block a final vote on the bill because it includes additional base budget funding in OCO to get around defense funding caps (set in the Budget Control Act) that could lead to cuts to nondefense programs. They are pushing for a long-term solution to sequestration, rather than a short-term increase in defense funding with no such increase for nondefense programs. However, a vote to cut off debate and move to final passage passed easily.
Both the White House and DoD have been highly critical of using OCO funding to increase defense. The White House has threatened to veto a final defense authorization bill that increases defense funding at the expense of nondefense programs or includes. Defense secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that this approach is “a road to nowhere” that risks the incremental funding approach for OCO.
The Senate bill 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.
Like the House, the Senate bill rejects administration proposals to set enrollment fees for TRICARE for Life beneficiaries or consolidate the TRICARE program, retire the A-10 attack jet fleet, and to initiate another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.
But, unlike the House, the Senate approves the president’s request to reduce the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and to use commissary surcharge funds to purchase operating supplies.
The FY2016 Defense Authorization bill now goes to a House-Senate conference to resolve the differences in the two bills.
Sen. McCain and House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chair Rep Mac Thornberry have said they would move quickly to conference the bill and get it to the president.
“I look forward to working closely with Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) as we proceed to conference. We share a commitment to defense reform, and there are broad areas of agreement and consensus in our two bills. I am hopeful we will be able to complete our work sometime next month, and send a good bill to the President’s desk,” McCain said.
McCain stressed that if passed this would be the 53rd consecutive defense authorization bill approved by Congress.