Levin-Inhofe statement on National Defense Authorization Act for FY15

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the committee’s ranking member, today issued the following Joint Statement on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015:

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached agreement with the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015.  A new bill will be filed today, and the House of Representatives plans to pass it without change and send it to the Senate by the end of this week.

“The bill includes hundreds of important provisions to authorize the activities of the Department of Defense and provide for the well-being of our men and women in uniform and their families.  This bill provides essential funding and authorities for our forces who are engaged with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and those who are in harm’s way in Afghanistan, and it enables the military services to continue paying special pays and bonuses needed for the recruitment and retention of key military personnel. 

 “The bill stays within the budget caps imposed by sequestration and makes a few reforms that will yield some modest savings to help the Department meet those caps in future years. 

“We are disappointed, however, that we were not able to do more in this regard.  The Department of Defense began, with this year’s budget, to propose a series of long-term structural changes – cancelling programs, retiring platforms, and reducing the growth in benefits – to reduce the size and cost of our military to operate at sequestration levels.  Taken together, these proposals would save an estimated $50 to $70 billion over the period Future Years Defense Program – a fraction of the savings that DOD needs, but an important start. 

“When the Senate Armed Services Committee marked up the National Defense Authorization Act in May, we voted 25-1 to approve a bill that included roughly half of of DOD’s proposed cuts, including measures to allow the Navy to take half of its cruisers out of service, enable the Army to retire its fleet of scout and training helicopters, and slow the rate of increase in housing and health care benefits.  The House chose not to include these measures in its version of the defense bill. 

“We have agreed on the following: This bill does not authorize the Navy to take 11 cruisers out of service, as requested – but it authorizes the first 2, preserving the option that the Navy may come back and ask for more next year.  The bill does not authorize the Army to fully carry out its helicopter plan – but it allows the process to begin, preserving the option to achieve the full savings, depending on the outcome of an independent commission review.

“While not authorizing the Department to fully carry out its proposals to slow the growth of compensation, the bill does allow the process to move forward in Fiscal Year 2015, and the joint report preserves the option for Congress to achieve the full savings requested by the Department in next year’s budget. 

In particular:

•           The Department requested pay raises below the rate of inflation for five years.  This bill provides a pay raise below the rate of inflation for Fiscal Year 2015, deferring decisions on future pay raises to later bills.

•           The Department requested that we slow the growth of the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) by permitting adjustments below the rate of inflation for three years.  This bill would slow the growth of BAH for Fiscal Year 2015, deferring decisions on future growth to later bills.

•           The Department requested that we gradually increase co-pays for TRICARE pharmaceuticals over ten years.  This bill includes a proportionate increase in co-pays for Fiscal Year 2015, deferring decisions on future increases to later bills.

“While we would have liked to do more, as the Senate bill would have done, this bill will at least preserve the option for Congress and the Executive Branch to achieve the full savings requested by the Department by adopting modifications for future years in those years.  We do not relish the idea of making these changes, but we recognize that, in the absence of sequestration relief, they are needed to avoid drastic reductions in military readiness, that would potentially endanger the lives of our troops. 

“On May 6, 2014, our committee held a hearing at which we asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff what would happen if we failed to enact the Department’s compensation proposals.  The Chiefs unanimously testified that these proposals were essential to avoid devastating cuts to military readiness.  For instance, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, told us that “delaying adjustments to military compensation will cause additional, disproportionate cuts to force structure, readiness, and modernization.” 

“While the progress we made doesn’t assure that the savings requested by the Department of Defense will be achieved in the precise manner requested, it allows the Department to move forward with necessary changes over the next year and points toward congressional consideration of further modifications after receipt of highly relevant reports.

“The bill also includes a bipartisan, bicameral package of public lands provisions that was worked out by the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Natural Resources Committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives.  These provisions have been under consideration for several years and there is strong support in both Houses for including them in our bill.

“We continue to believe that defense bills should be taken up by the Senate in the regular order, fully subject to debate and amendment.   That is why we asked Senators to file amendments to our bill in the summer.  It is why we sought to “clear” amendments – many of which have been included in this bill – even before going to the Senate floor.  It is why we sought unanimous consent – unsuccessfully – to limit consideration to defense-related amendments. 

“At this point, there is no way that we can resolve disputes about which amendments should be debated, debate them, overcome potential filibusters, and still get the job done.  If we get nothing enacted, we would kill both the bill itself and the amendments that we’ve cleared, while providing no avenue for getting additional amendments enacted.  We ask our colleagues to support us in bringing up and passing this bill without amendment as the best of a bad set of options.”

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