Legislative Affairs Co-Chair, COL John Koshan
Independence Day, 2017, and congress is on yet another holiday recess and a fairly short time period between now and the beginning of the new budget year this fall. Congress has been at work reviewing the proposed Defense spending plan submitted by the administration and marking up proposals. Both Armed services committees (House and Senate) did approve their respective version of the Defense Authorization Bill for FY 2018 prior to recess. A highly unusual event as both committees rarely pass bills at the same time.
Each committee has staked out their areas of major emphasis and in some instances are the same but in others are different and in some instances significant differences. Each area of difference will eventually have to be negotiated and a compromise reached before a final bill is drawn up. Currently then we have three (3) proposed versions Defense Authorization Bill, the House the Senate and of course the budget submitted by the Administration in late May. Both the House and the Senate versions propose larger defense spending that the administration. These differences like all other differences will have to be reconciled before any bill is authorized. Another area of major disagreement between the House and Senate is the active duty pay raise. Both the Senate and the Administration favor a pay increase of 2.1%, whereas the House favors a 2.4% increase. The 2.1% favored by the administration and senate would increase the gap between the military and the private sector. The house proposed increase of 2.4% matches the employment cost index, not increasing the pay gap. History shows that until retention is affected, the pay gap will not be addressed.
Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act gave us major changes to the Military Health System and TRICARE and the reforms initiated remain relatively intact with this budget proposal and neither the House or the Senate have proposed anything new. A series of fee changes however are being proposed. New enrollment fees, higher deductibles, Pharmacy fees and out of network cost could all be affected. All categories of beneficiaries except active duty members and their families and those beneficiaries of TRICARE for Life could see fee increases. Retiree beneficiaries under TRICARE under the age of 65 could see big increases in health care costs. MOAA has expressed concern at the proposed fee changes and continuous to work with both House and Senate leaders to improve the Military Health System.
Below is a broad comparison of all three versions of the Defense Authorization Act currently under consideration:
Administration House Senate
Base Spending: $603B $621B $640B
Pay Raise: 2.1% 2.4% 2.1%
Pharmacy Fees 3 x over10 yrs Index to COLA More than COLA
As the above shows, considerable discussion must occur before a defense bill is passed. Each house of congress must approve its version and then reconcile with the other. When lawmakers return to Washington after the recess, they will have approximately 25 working days to reach an agreement on all the differences between each version. This is little time to act on a piece of legislation that will have a significant impact on this nation. After years of unnecessary and unwise cuts to our national security under the previous administration, this legislation is a step forward in rebuilding our military and insuring our nation is ready to meet any new threats. Let us hope that our representatives are capable.
MOAA is on the side of increased defense spending and improved Military Health Care at a reasonable expense. Please support MOAA’s efforts and insure that our political representatives know our position on the issues.