Congress gets late start on DoD Appropriations, raises coming for Active Duty

 
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Congress gets late start on DoD Appropriations, raises coming for Active Duty

Fairly customary for a new administration to run a little behind on DoD Appropriations bills, but this one was late enough that the Congress is risking bumping up against the 4th of July Recess as a few articles from the Military Times makes clear.

First:

Lawmakers are cramming weeks worth of defense budget work into a few days before the July 4th recess, setting up several long days for military watchers on Capitol Hill.

On Monday night, in a closed session, the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel will mark up its first draft of the annual military appropriations bill. On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services committee will do the same with the annual authorization bill, while the House will hold a marathon all-day, all-night session for their open draft of the authorization act.

Typically, those three events are separated by several weeks of deliberations and negotiations. But with the White House budget delivery in late May, months behind the normal operating schedule, congressional committees are scrambling to catch up and finish work before the extended August recess.

The bill itself may run into trouble from Democrats who are unlikely to support big defense bills as belt tightening occurs elsewhere, and fiscally conservative Republicans who have always chafed at “off budget” defense spending:

House appropriators plan to consider a proposed $658.1 billion Pentagon spending bill for 2018 made public Sunday, which kicks off a week packed with defense policy and appropriations action on Capitol Hill.

The 160-page proposal, whose total includes $584.2 in base funding and $73.9 billion in budget-cap exempt wartime funding, heads to a closed markup session on Monday night. The committee’s overall funding level, as proposed, would be $68.1 billion above the current fiscal year.

The hefty defense boost is likely to fuel a fight with Democrats and fiscally hawkish Republicans, who will seek to trim it back.

Defense Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, defended the increased cost of the bill:

“This bill reflects what our military leaders have recommended in countless meetings and briefings and demonstrates our commitment to restoring military readiness, force modernization efforts, and maintaining technological superiority on the battlefield," she said. "The last thing we want is to permit our enemies a fair fight.” 

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the full committee, Mac Thornberry of Texas took aim at the meager raise proposed by the Pentagon and President Trump:

House lawmakers want White House officials to either stop cutting back on military pay raises or change the federal rules governing how those rates are set.

Next week, members of the House Armed Services Committee are expected to approve a $640 billion defense authorization plan which includes a 2.4 percent pay raise for troops starting next January. That’s 0.3 percentage points above what the White House proposed in its budget plan last month.

On Thursday, committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, highlighted the bigger raise as “number one on my list” of important defense provisions and noted that the 2.4 percent is what service members and their families are “entitled.”

Specifically addressing the rules on raises, Thornberry said:

“This administration did what the previous administration has done, which was to knock that down,” he said.

“If we need to change the formula, maybe we need to change the formula. But the way the formula is, it’s based on economic indicators. If we’re going to try and keep pay competitive, we ought to follow the formula.”

It seems likely that Congress will get the budget done fairly rapidly, but not without some infighting over the fact that the DoD budget is going up while others are going down.  But Thornberry does make a point; why have a set rule on how raises are handled if it’s going to get second guessed each year?

For our part, the American Legion has always been supportive of a larger Defense budget, in line with a larger percent of our Gross Domestic Product:

RESOLVED, By The American Legion in National Convention assembled in Cincinnati, Ohio, August 30, 31, September 1, 2016, That The American Legion urge Congress to oppose any future budget cuts in military spending proposed by the Department of Defense; and, be it finally

RESOLVED, That Congress not allow our military forces to reach a weakened state in these uncertain and perilous times.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.