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LEGISLATIVE NEWS THAT AFFECTS YOU Tough Progress


Several weeks after the House approved its version of the FY 2017 Defense Authorization Bill, the Senate passed its version, with steeper health care fees but more specific requirements to improve care.


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very year, Senate leaders want to get the annual defense bill finished early, but their success rate in recent


years hasn’t been good. This year, the Armed Services Com- mittee finished drafting the bill and got it before the full Senate in record time. But this “must-pass” bill attracted over 600 amendments on everything from Guantanamo Bay detainees to the titles of Pentagon officials. Two major amendments posed immedi- ate challenges. One offered by committee Chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would have added $18 billion to the overseas con- tingency operations (OCO) fund, commonly referred to as the wartime account, to pay for a higher military pay raise and larger force levels, among other things. But some see this as a violation of last year’s budget agreement, and others have problems using the OCO account (which isn’t subject to budget limits) to get around spending caps. Another amendment, offered by Sen.


Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the committee, would have added another $18 billion to nondefense accounts. The ratio- nale is sequestration required equal cuts in defense and nondefense spending, so any exception should apply equally to both. MOAA was very encouraged by


McCain’s interest in increasing force levels and the pay raise. But neither amendment could win


the required 60 votes to end debate, mainly because of the general refusal of


each party to allow a vote on the other party’s amendment. But the politics didn’t end there. When Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) found his amendment (to prevent unlimited detention of U.S. citizens with links to terrorism suspects) blocked, he raised ob- jections to every other amendment, effec- tively stymieing any further amendment action. That killed the chances for MOAA- supported amendments to increase the 2017 pay raise, delete proposed housing- allowance cuts, expand concurrent receipt eligibility, and more. McCain fumed on the Senate floor that Senate rules allow one senator to hold up action and kill much-needed amendments — including some he said were literally a matter of life and death — and called it a “shameful chapter” in Senate history. One amendment of interest on commis-


saries was passed (see “Commissary Fight in Senate,” page 34) before Lee imposed the impasse. But in the end, the Senate skipped any further amendments and passed the bill June 14 by a vote of 85-13. Although MOAA wanted a defense bill passed without having to wait until late in the year, we regret not being able to get votes on important amendments on con- current receipt, the military pay raise, and housing-allowance changes, among others. July’s Washington Scene highlighted


how the Senate-passed bill would raise TRICARE fees significantly for most work-


AUGUST 2016 MILITARY OFFICER 27


Visit Your Legislators With Congress on August recess and legislators in their home offices, now is the time to pay them a visit to discuss MOAA’s legislative priorities. Visit www.moaa.org/augustre cess for fact sheets to help you prepare.


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