House and Senate conferees trying to hammer out a final version of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill appear to have reached an agreement over reductions in service members’ basic allowance for housing (BAH), considered one of the talks’ chief sticking points, according to House GOP conferees.
The breakthrough could pave the way for negotiations to wrap up shortly, reported CQ Roll Call.
“We’re closer,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). “The BAH is no longer an issue.”
The Senate version of the annual policy bill embraced changes proposed by DOD which would have slowed the rate of increase in the BAH until rates cover only 95 percent of service members’ out-of-pocket costs. Last year, leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees reached a compromise allowing the benefit to cover only 99 percent of rental and utility costs.
The Senate version also includes language limiting the BAH for service members who live together or married couples who work within a reasonable commuting distance from each other.
Under the compromise, the BAH would drop by one percent per year for five years, lawmakers told CQ.
“Instead of just dropping it back down again like that and taking away a married couple’s one side of the BAH … it would be a slower drawdown of BAH,” Hunter said.
With the housing allowance issue seemingly settled, conferees most likely still need to hash out agreements over several other compensation issues — such as increases in Tricare co-pays and retirement benefits — and, possibly, other matters.
“A lot of the stuff we’re working now is pay and benefits and some complicated stuff,” Hunter said.
While negotiators appear to be on track to strike a deal on a conference report this month, other pressing legislative business — such as a continuing resolution — could take priority, lawmakers told the publication.
“I think we’re a few issues away that are coming together,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio). “Now, the timing of it may rely on all these other issues going on all around us as far as when it actually gets done.”