While leaders of the Armed Services committees have pointed to a dispute of whether the greater sage grouse should be barred from being placed on the endangered species list as the primary holdup in House-Senate negotiations over a conference agreement for the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill, discussions over the measure’s topline spending level and what programs will suffer cuts have yet to be settled.
Lawmakers reportedly have reached a compromise over the House version’s reliance on $18 billion in overseas contingency operations (OCO) account funds to augment the department’s base budget. The maneuver would allow Congress to evade the defense spending cap and fund weapons and equipment, and higher end strength levels not requested by the Obama administration. The move, which is intended to restore shortfalls in military readiness, would force the next administration to request supplemental funding for overseas operations before the end of April.
While negotiators apparently agreed to use only $9 billion from the OCO account for base budget items, they still need to hammer out a deal on how those funds would be allocated and what programs won’t benefit from war funds, reports Politico.
Lawmakers, for example, need to decide whether to retain funding to increase the active-duty end strength for the Army and Marine Corps beyond DOD’s request, a high priority for many lawmakers. Cancelling the extra troops would save over $1 billion.
The committees also could save $330 million by agreeing to a 1.6 percent pay raise for service members, rather than a 2.1 percent increase.
Because President Obama has threatened to veto the authorization bill if it allows defense spending to skirt the budget caps without an equal increase for domestic programs, most experts believe the Armed Services committees won’t complete their negotiations until Congress and the White House reach a deal on FY 2017 appropriations. Lawmakers are optimistic that agreement will happen during the lame-duck session.
An amendment added to the House version of the authorization bill that would allow federal contractors to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity also could hold up a conference agreement on the annual defense policy bill, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on House Armed Services, said last month.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), would roll back an executive order signed by Obama making discrimination against LGBT individuals in federal contracting illegal, reported CQ Roll Call.
In its Statement of Administration policy on the House bill, the White House said it “strongly objects” to the Russell language because it would “undermine important protections put in place by the president to ensure that federal contractors and subcontractors do not engage in discriminatory employment practices.”