Quick Hit – May 13, 2016

An unusually busy two-week stretch for defense bills moving simultaneously (and early) through both the House and Senate.

Diverging Strategy in House vs. Senate NDAA

Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee finished its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, meaning both chambers have now released their own versions of the NDAA legislation for fiscal year 2017.

The key difference between House and Senate versions is their funding strategy. In the NDAA bill from the House Armed Services Committee, Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund will only extend through April 2017. The effect of this move, supported by Chairman Mac Thornberry, is essentially to shortchange the OCO budget in order to reallocate money to the base budget to fund Pentagon operations. The $23.1 billion in OCO the House NDAA bill shifts to the Pentagon’s base budget is an attempt to bump the defense budget beyond what current spending caps allow, and force the president to request supplemental funding next year.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Chairman John McCain, has not supported Thornberry’s approach. During a closed session ending late Thursday night, the SASC passed a $602 billion defense authorization bill with only three dissenting votes. The Senate subcommittee bill only shifts $5 billion from OCO to base budget funds, as requested by the Obama administration, as opposed to the $23 billion in the House version. McCain would also like to see more funding for defense, but is hoping to achieve this through negotiations on the floor. The SASC markup of the NDAA should be released to the public imminently. The bill can be expected to go to the floor before Memorial Day Weekend.

Other Points of Interest:

Overall, the House NDAA bill is more generous with authorizing funding for the Air Force B-21 bomber program, procurement of Russian RD 180 engines for U.S. manufactured rockets, pay increases for military personnel, and other weapons manufacturing. McCain has vocalized opposition to overspending in these areas, prioritizing the need for broader military reforms in structure, healthcare, etc.  The HASC markup of the NDAA may be found here.

The Senate version of the NDAA also proposes significant restructuring of existing Combatant Commands, a change to the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and further restructuring of OSD’s acquisition leadership organization.

 “This is a reform bill, The NDAA contains the most sweeping reforms of the organization of the Department of Defense in a generation.”

– John McCain, May 12, 2016

House Defense Appropriations:

On Wednesday this week the House Appropriations Committee released the subcommittee draft of the FY17 Defense Appropriations Bill. A full committee markup of the bill is scheduled for this Tuesday, May 17. The current version supports the NDAA proposal from the HASC, shifting about $16 billion in OCO funds to the defense base budget, funding a 2.1% pay increase for military personnel, and expanding weapons infrastructure. Find the full text of the current bill here and stay tuned for developments on Tuesday.

Senate Appropriations Moves Ahead:

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was forced to contend with a stall in his appropriations schedule due to a controversial amendment to the FY17 energy and water bill. The amendment proposed by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, would have dealt a fatal blow to the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. After a deal brokered by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on Thursday, Cotton’s amendment was rejected, the energy and water bill passed, and now the Senate appropriations cycle can proceed on schedule. Up next is the MILCON/VA appropriations bill.

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