Progress by House and Senate conferees negotiating a compromise version of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill slowed last week due to disagreements over service members’ benefits and other key issues.
As a result, the target date for the House to vote on a conference report has slipped to the week of July 27, reported CQ Roll Call. If the conferees finish work on a final version of the defense policy bill in time for the House to take it up next week, the Senate still would have time to clear a conference report the following week before starting its August recess.
One of the primary hurdles is a dispute over DOD’s proposal to trim service members’ housing benefits. The Senate version adopts the department’s plan to slow the rate of increase in the basic allowance for housing (BAH) over the next several years until rates cover only 95 percent of personnel’s out-of-pocket costs. That version also includes language limiting the BAH for service members who live together, a change that has drawn criticism because it would reduce benefits for married couples who both serve in the military.
The House measure does not include either reform.
The House-Senate conference also needs to resolve differences over the Obama administration’s proposal to increase co-pays for the military’s Tricare health system. And while the two versions both would replace the 20-year retirement benefit with other options to offer benefits to personnel who separate from the military before reaching the traditional retirement milestone, the two chambers need to reconcile differences in how the changes are paid for.
Other issues need to be resolved as well — including restrictions on DOD’s ability to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees and acquisition reform — but those are expected to be more easily addressed than the personnel provisions, according to the story.
Major decisions about what goes in the final authorization bill will be settled by the chairman and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, along with congressional leaders. Rank-and-file members of the conference committee expressed frustration with Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain’s condescending dismissal of their concerns at the single closed-door meeting held last week, Politico reported.