Lawmakers to Discuss BRAC, Installation Issues in FY’16 Defense Policy Bill

This year’s defense authorization bill almost certainly won’t give DoD the green light it wants to hold a new BRAC round, but it could help the department build its case that a new round is needed.

The House version of the annual defense policy bill calls for DoD to prepare a 20-year force structure plan for each service and an infrastructure assessment that could be used to determine the level of excess capacity. The Senate draft does not contain a similar provision, however, and so it is not yet clear if the House language will remain in the final bill.

The fiscal 2016 authorization bill will be highlighted on Wednesday, June 24, when several members of the congressional Armed Services committees address the Defense Communities National Summit during the Congressional Keynote Briefing. One of the featured speakers will be Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and one of the few lawmakers who has backed the Obama administration’s request for a new base closure round.

Smith, however, has proposed a number of reforms to the base closure process to ensure that implementation costs for a new round are reasonable and that the recommendations yield significant savings within five years.

Most recently the debate in Congress over the authorization bill has focused on the GOP strategy to rely on DoD’s war account to bypass the statutory spending caps. On Tuesday, the Senate rejected a Democratic effort to stop lawmakers from authorizing the use of tens of billions of dollars in extra war funds to bolster the Pentagon’s FY 2016 budget.

Following the vote, it’s not clear whether Senate Democrats will try to block the annual policy bill, S. 1376, from advancing in the chamber. Afterwards, Democrats vowed to stop the GOP from going ahead with its strategy to offer the Pentagon budget relief by adding funds to its overseas contingency operations (OCO) account while ignoring domestic agencies by blocking progress on spending bills.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters when asked whether Democrats would filibuster the bill if the vote failed. “I think I know what our plan is on appropriations; it’s not as clear on defense authorization,” he said, reported the Hill.

Tuesday’s vote took up an amendment from Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), ranking member on Senate Armed Services, which would have restricted the use of $38 billion added to the OCO account unless Congress lifted the discretionary spending caps on defense and non-defense spending. S. 1376 authorizes a total of $89 billion for the OCO account; the Obama administration had requested only $51 billion.

“There are many good reforms in the NDAA but they are compromised by the inefficient, irresponsible OCO budget gimmick,” Reed said in a written statement. “Sending the president a bill to veto just leads to more government by crisis, and another partisan legislative cliff,” Reed added. 

Prior to the vote, John McCain (R-Ariz.), Senate Armed Services chair, urged senators not to make the authorization bill a “hostage” for a dispute over spending.

“The NDAA is a policy bill. It can’t solve the Budget Control Act,” McCain said. “It deals only with defense issues, and it doesn’t spend a dollar.”

The budget framework adopted by congressional Republicans for FY 2016 endorses the strategy of relying on the OCO account as a way of meeting the total dollar amount of the president’s budget request for DoD without adjusting the Budget Control Act limits. But Democrats in both chambers, along with the White House, have opposed the maneuver in a bid to bring the GOP to the negotiating table.

“We shouldn’t wait to solve this problem. We need to get to the table now and work together to eliminate the threat of sequestration, just as every single military leader has asked us to do,” Reed said. 

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