House Passes Revised FY2016 NDAA, But Appropriations Blocked in Senate

House Passes Revised FY2016 NDAA, But Appropriations Blocked in Senate

Now that the White House and Congress have agreed on raising the budget caps for FY2016 and FY2017, the impasse over the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) may be resolved.  President Obama vetoed the bill two weeks ago, but today the House passed a revised version that conforms to the new caps, avoiding the need to attempt a veto override.  Meanwhile, Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the defense appropriations bill over concern that Republicans would not honor the new budget agreement.

House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) released the text of the revised NDAA, S. 1356, and a list of the changes from the version that was vetoed.  The changes are to funding, not policy.   President Obama vetoed the bill primarily because of a budget “gimmick” used to add more money for defense while ignoring non-defense needs.  The budget/debt limit deal agreed to last week and signed into law on Monday resolves that issue.

To conform to the new budget caps, $5 billion in spending had to be removed from the NDAA that originally was sent to the President (H.R. 1735). A list of the changes is posted on the HASC website. The biggest single change is a $1 billion reduction possible due to lower fuel costs, but the other reductions are spread across a wide range of programs and accounts.  A few space activities get minor adjustments:

  • Weather System Follow-On, an additional cut of $5 million beyond what was in the original bill
  • Space and Missile Center civilian workforce, an additional cut of $3.6 million beyond what was in the original bill
  • Advanced EHF program, a new cut of $6 million
  • GPS, a new cut of $2 million
  • Fleet satellite communications follow on, a new cut of $5.7 million
  • Air Force Satellite Control Network system engineering, a new cut of $2 million

The House passed the new version under suspension of the rules this morning by a vote of 370-58.  The bill now goes to the Senate. Congress is using an unrelated bill, S. 1356, as the legislative vehicle for the revised NDAA.  S. 1356 originally was the Border Control Agent Pay Reform Act, which passed the Senate in May. The House passed the bill today with an amendment that strikes the existing text of the bill and replaces it with the revised NDAA.

The President’s veto statement expressed disagreement with two policy issues — that the bill prevented needed reforms and did not allow the closing of Guantanamo.  Those parts of the bill have not changed.  Whether the President would veto the revised version over those matters is an open question, but no veto threat has been issued yet.  The Senate may take up the bill next week.

Authorization bills like the NDAA recommend funding levels, but only appropriations bills actually give money to DOD or other government agencies. 

While the House was passing the revised NDAA, Senate Democrats blocked consideration of the FY2016 DOD appropriations bill.  Sixty votes were needed to invoke cloture and allow the bill to be considered; the vote was 51-44.  This is the third time consideration of the bill has been blocked.  

Senate Democrats reportedly are concerned that if the defense appropriations bill moves forward on its own, Republicans might not honor the new budget agreement and force all the other government agencies into a long-term Continuing Resolution (CR).   Democrats want an appropriations bill that combines most of the 12 regular appropriations bills into a single package.  That carries its own risks, since controversial policy provisions — such as defunding Planned Parenthood — could doom funding for the entire government.

Despite the optimism expressed just last week when the budget/debt limit deal passed, the fate of FY2016 appropriations seems anything but assured.

Update:  This article was updated to reflect the fact that Senate Democrats agreed to allow the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (Milcon-VA) appropriations bill to advance reportedly because its funding is more equally split between defense and non-defense spending.

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