Senate Removes Commissary Privatization Program from Defense Bill

The Senate on Wednesday stripped from the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill language directing the Defense Department to privatize up to five commissaries through a two-year pilot program.

Lawmakers also passed a second procedural vote to end debate on the annual policy bill, setting up a final vote for passage which likely will take place Thursday. The 84-14 vote also signaled the Democrats’ decision not to filibuster the authorization bill over its reliance on DOD’s overseas contingency operations account to exceed the Budget Control Act spending caps. Instead, Senate Democrats will resume that fight over the defense spending bill. The party is expected to block a vote, which could come today, to debate the spending measure in the Senate.

Before voting to invoke cloture on the underlying bill, the Senate approved language requiring DOD to assess the costs and benefits of privatizing military grocery stores prior to launching a pilot program to evaluate privatization. The amendment was offered by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), but it was modified to include the text of a related amendment from Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), reported CQ.

“This amendment puts all efforts to prioritize commissaries on hold, requiring instead an assessment on privatizing before we make significant changes to our service member’s commissary benefits,” Inhofe said in a joint press release. “There are too many unknowns as to whether privatization could directly impact military members’ ability to provide for their families as well as the potential for it to affect retention,” he stated.

The House bill does not include language requiring DOD to test privatization.

On Tuesday, the Senate rejected an amendment from David Vitter (R-La.) that would have established a floor of 32 Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) in the active and reserve Army components. That is the number of BCTs the Army will have at the end of the current fiscal year when it reaches an end strength of 490,000. Officials shortly are expected to announce further cuts that would shrink the Army by up to 70,000 additional troops and 10 to 12 BCTs.

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