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By CAPT Marshall Hanson, USN (Ret.)
The compromise Defense Authorization bill was passed by the House under suspension of the rules on Thursday. It passed without a roll-call vote.
"The passage of the 52nd National Defense Authorization Act is a tremendous achievement for the 113th Congress,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif.
“The NDAA ensures that Congress accomplishes its Constitutional prerogative, to provide for the common defense,” said the chairman. “This legislation continues our effort to rebuild a military that has been tested by a decade at war. It upholds the unwavering tradition of Congressional oversight, while providing support to the warfighter and value to the taxpayer.”
When the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) stalled out in the Senate, before Thanksgiving, passage of the NDAA looked bleak. With a Senate defense authorization bill not completed, the House and Senate leadership pre-conferenced creating new legislation from the NDAA that was passed by the House in June 2013, and the marked-up Senate bill that was a product of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The compromise bill appears to have the backing of half the Senate Republican caucus and is likely to be cleared next week.
Ranking member, Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., said that his GOP colleagues remain unhappy about the expedited process for getting the sprawling bill through Congress as they were provided little opportunity for amendment. It was this failure of the process before Thanksgiving that derailed the earlier bill.
But Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Sen. Inhofe, and John McCain, R-Ariz., made speeches on the floor emphasizing the importance of passage prior to year’s end.
Referenced in the speeches was a letter from chairman of the joint chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, USA that was sent to the conferees warning them that certain authorities would expire on Dec 31. All combat, hazardous duty pay and reenlistment bonuses would be stopped if not passed as part of an NDAA.
When the original Senate bill was debated on that chamber’s floor, only two amendments were considered, and both failed to pass. The pre-conference considered 87 amendments that had been cleared by the Senate Rules committee with 79 being accepted in the new legislation. These Senate amendments had never been voted upon by the Senate, except as part of the overall bill, which caused frustration among some Senators.
The legislation authorized $534.5 billion in spending for national defense, $17.6 billion for the Department of Energy and an addition $80.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations. This is $7.8 billion less for war spending as U.S presence in Afghanistan winds down.
Troop pay was limited to a 1 percent increase in keeping with the White House request. This compares to a 1.5 percent increase for military retirees, veterans and social security recipients which is based on Employment Cost Index calculations that estimate inflation.
Language in the NDAA did reject all the Administration’s proposals to increase or create new TRICARE fees for military retirees. While fees will increase it is based on retiree cost of living increases.
ROA will be reviewing the language of the bill, and be sharing provisions with ROA members at a future date. The affect of the Congressional budget agreement on this legislation has yet to be determined, except that retirees under age 62 are likely to see their COLA increase reduced by one-fourth of a percent in January 2015.
At least half of the Republican caucus in the Senate is likely to support the bill in next week’s vote. With few substantive policy disagreements, backers should easily muster the 60 votes to invoke cloture, to restrict debate. With passage it will be sent to the president for signature.