Compromise Defense Policy Bill Would Boost Force Levels

Compromise Defense Policy Bill Would Boost Force Levels

The House and Senate Armed Services committees have settled on a compromise fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill that would halt planned cuts in the end strength of the Army, Air Force and Marines in the coming year, while jettisoning several provisions that were likely to draw a presidential veto.

The conference report likely will be filed today. The House is expected to vote on the agreement Friday, and the Senate is expected to take it up next week, reported Military Times.

Perhaps the most far-reaching impact of the legislation for defense communities is its rejection of the Pentagon’s plans to reduce the size of the Army and Marine Corps. The compromise agreement would set the Army’s active-duty end strength at 476,000 soldiers, 16,000 more than the administration requested for FY 2017. The active Marine Corps would have 185,000 troops, 3,000 more than President Obama included in the FY 2017 budget.

The Air Force’s active forces would rise from 320,715 to 321,000 in FY 2017, rather than falling to 317,000 airmen under DOD’s latest budget request. The Navy would remain at 324,000 sailors.

The final bill would authorize topline discretionary spending of $611 billion for national security, including $59.5 billion for the department’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) account. The war fund includes $8.3 billion for programs not associated with the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and beyond. That figure is comprised of $5.1 billion from the administration’s request and $3.2 billion added by lawmakers to pay for higher force levels and to push the military pay raise from 1.6 percent — as the Pentagon had requested — to 2.1 percent.

The added $3.2 billion is not matched by corresponding spending for domestic programs, an outcome that could prompt Democrats and the president to object to the final bill. Conversely, Democrats could view the added funds as an acceptable compromise. The House version of the authorization bill called for shifting $18 billion from the OCO account, which is not subject to the statutory budget caps, to augment the department’s base budget in an effort to restore shortfalls in military readiness.

Lawmakers dropped several provisions that could have triggered a veto, reported CQ Roll Call. One would have permitted religiously affiliated federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT workers. The other would have banned the Fish and Wildlife Service from placing the greater sage grouse on the Endangered Species List, a move that could restrict the use of military training ranges in the western United States.

Of course the conference agreement retains many provisions the White House will object to, but committee aides believe those are not as likely to result in a presidential veto. As expected, the final bill denies the administration’s request for a new BRAC round in 2019. It also retains restrictions on closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen
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