Obama's DOD funding request sets up fight

President Obama’s fiscal 2016 defense budget request released Monday calls for cuts to healthcare, housing, and other benefits for troops, setting up a fight with groups seeking to protect compensation for troops.

The Obama budget includes a 1.3 percent pay raise, and overall includes $2.6 billion more in the next fiscal year for pay and benefits.

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Out-of-pocket housing expenses for troops will increase, however.  

Basic housing allowances for troops would be cut by 4 percent over the next two to three years, on top of a 1 percent cut accepted by Congress in 2015. That would save the department $400 million.

The Pentagon's budget would also cut $300 million in subsidies for commissaries, where troops buy groceries at lower prices. The reduced subsidies would result in a reduction in operating days and hours.

Healthcare costs will increase, with “modestly higher deductibles and co-pays,” the Pentagon's overview said, saving $300 million for the department. Active duty troops will remain exempt from co-pays or fees, but some fees will increase for their family members.

Co-pays for pharmaceuticals at off-base medical facilities would also increase, except for active duty members.

The pay hike would be lower than the average annual 1.8 percent increase for private industry employees, but higher than the 1.0 percent increase troops had received in 2014 and 2015.

The budget request includes a total of $178.9 billion for military pay and benefit costs.

The administration cast the budget request as largely the same as previous years, when it comes to pay an benefits.

“The FY 2016 President's budget resubmits largely the same compensation package as FY 2015” with some modifications, a Pentagon overview released on Monday said.

But one group representing retired military officers panned the proposal. 

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), said the budget "just rehashes many of the same piecemeal proposals that Congress blunted or blocked last year." 

"These proposals will further erode servicemembers’ pay and benefits that are fundamental to sustaining the quality of the all-volunteer force,” he said. 

“We have a commitment to the all-volunteer force, the 1 percent in uniform and their families who have sacrificed so much for the other 99 percent of Americans over the past 13 years,” Ryan said. “There is no more dedicated group in America but also no group more stretched.”

Retirees and their families would pay an annual “participation fee” and there would be a “modest annual enrollment fee” for Tricare-for-Life (TFL) coverage for Medicare-eligible retirees, with current TFL beneficiaries grandfathered in.

There are increased funds for military family support programs, at $8 billion — a $200 million increase from 2015. The programs include child care and youth programs, non-medical counseling and programs to boost troop and family morale.

Civilian pay and benefit costs also increase $600 million, for a total of $71 billion. Civilians would get a pay raise of 1.3 percent as well.

However, the Pentagon civilian workforce would face net reductions of roughly 4,170 due to the end of the Afghanistan War. Cyber, ship maintenance, disability evaluation and auditing would see increases.

Approximately 10,180 active duty and reserve personnel would be cut.

A blue-ribbon panel appointed by Congress came out with its own recommendations on Thursday on how to reform military pay and benefits, but it's not clear whether Congress will adopt those proposals.

Some congressional aides are skeptical, since Congress's budget priorities have already been set at this point. The Pentagon's overview also stated, "The Department does not anticipate that the FY 2016 budget proposals will conflict with the Commission's report."

However, the Pentagon said it "anticipates working closely and transparently with the administration over the coming weeks to determine the recommendations, which the president will send to the Congress, to provide for the best possible future force."

This report was updated at 4:50 p.m.