House, Senate reach deal on DOD spending

Greg Nash

The Senate and House Armed Services committees have reconciled their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, clearing the way for the full House to consider Pentagon spending later this week.

The top members of both committees — GOP chairmen Sen. John McCainJohn McCainIs Georgia turning blue? High anxiety for GOP Trump: 'Very disappointed' GOP senator dropped support MORE (Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas) and ranking Democrats Rep. Adam SmithAdam SmithThe defense bill’s anti-LGBT poison pill Incomes are rising, but don't trust GOP to make it a trend GOP rebuffs call to uphold Obama veto MORE (Wash.) and Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedArmani, Batali among guests at White House state dinner Overnight Finance: Jobless claims near record low | Cops bust IRS phone scam in India | Republican demands Iran sanctions docs Senate Dems demand answers from Wells Fargo over treatment of military MORE (R.I.) — announced the agreement Tuesday, ending months of meetings. But disagreements remain on the way certain funds are to be allocated.

“We still have some disagreements, but we were able to come together in the spirit of compromise on behalf men and women that are serving this country,” McCain said. “There are the most sweeping reforms in years and year in this bill. Whether it be retirement or whether it be changing makeup of the Pentagon.”

The defense policy bill authorizes Pentagon activities and programs, and has passed for 53 years in a row. The committees had originally planned to finish by the end of the July, but a larger budget fight complicated the process.

The bill, which covers everything from Guantanamo Bay to prescription co-pays, is scheduled to move to the House floor Thursday.

This year, the White House urged Republicans to lift 2011 federal budget caps for the Pentagon and non-defense spending in 2016.

The Republican-proposed budget would leave those caps in place for non-defense spending but boost defense spending through a war fund not subject to those caps.

The defense policy bill would authorize $612 billion in funding for the Pentagon. That’s the amount the administration is asking for, but $38 billion of that would be in the war fund instead of the base budget, as the administration wants.

“The one-year money goes not give [the Defense Department] freedom to plan and to actually have a normal budget process in the way that they want,” Smith said.

In regards to what would happen if the president does veto the bill, a senior staffer on the House Armed Service Committee said, “We’ll see what happens and move from there.”

Aside from that issue, a few of the sticking points between the two committees during conferences included changes to Tricare, the military’s healthcare plan; provisions to close the Guantanamo Bay military facility; and retirement reform.

For Guantanamo, the conference version of the bill would keep the ban on bringing detainees to the United States for another year. That’s because, McCain said, the Obama administration did not deliver a plan on where to house the detainees.

The conference bill also would continue a ban on transfers to Yemen and add bans on transfers Syria, Libya and Somalia. It would also require Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to certify that transfers out of the facility are in the interest of national security.

—Updated at 5:50 p.m.

“There’s been concern about some of those transfers, and so, it’s a relatively small change, but essentially he’s going to have to certify that it’s in the national security interest of the United States to transfer somebody from Guantanamo,” Thornberry said.

On Tricare, there would one-year increases in prescription co-pays. The increase varies based on where the prescription is filled and whether it is a generic drug.

For retirement reform, service members would be able to take a lump sum payment after 20 years of credible service, instead of waiting until they are 60 years old.

Other provisions of the conference bill include allowing the United States to provide arms to Ukraine; providing for coordination between the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs on mental health issues; allowing troops on bases in the United States to carry arms in accordance with state laws; and banning torture by any U.S. agency.