The Ultimate Boxing Match: House vs. Senate
As we move into the summer months, Congress is continuing the long process of passing the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the massive piece of legislation that will fund Department of Defense activities for the fiscal year beginning October 1. It all started in March, when the Administration released its budget plan to Congress and the Senate and House Armed Services Committees began reviewing the proposal and drafting legislation. Although the Administration’s budget is used as a starting point, each Armed Services committee writes its own version of the NDAA, which often differ significantly from each other and from the Administration proposal. So far, Congress has taken the following steps:
- May 15 – The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) passed its version of the NDAA, H. R. 4435
- May 22 - H.R. 4435 is voted on by the House of Representatives
- May 23 - Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the bill, S. 2289. The bill must still be passed by the full Senate, and Senators will have the opportunity to offer amendments to the legislation.
After the bill is passed by the Senate, a conference committee will meet to resolve any differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill. Once that happens, the revised bill will be voted on again by the House and Senate, and the final bill will go to the President for his signature.
The House and Senate versions of the legislation differ in several areas important to military families.
It’s possible the full Senate may amend the proposals on pay increases, BAH and TRICARE to match the House version. If they don’t, the differences will have to be resolved in conference.
It’s important to know there is another key player in funding the DoD: the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate. Their role is to allocate funds among the various agencies of the federal government. The Armed Services committee can authorize funding for a program or weapons system, but it is up to the Appropriations committee to actually set aside the funding. That’s important for military families this year because the House Appropriations committee has allocated funds to pay for a 1.8 percent pay raise and full BAH. Thus, if the conference committee decides in favor of the House version of the NDAA, funds will be available for the full pay raise and BAH.
Some other items in the NDAA of interest to military families include:
- Suicide prevention: Both the House and the Senate direct the Department of Defense to begin tracking suicides of military family members. We are especially pleased to see this, as we have long contended that suicide among military family members is a growing problem that cannot be addressed until we know its scope.
- Assistance to public schools: Both versions of the NDAA authorize $25 million in DoD Impact Aid to assist public schools educating large numbers of military-connected children. The Senate version authorizes an additional $5 million for schools educating military children with severe disabilities.
- Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools: DoD schools overseas will be allowed to hire non-U.S. citizens to teach host nation language classes if a U.S. citizen is not available. In addition, the Advisory Council of Dependents’ Education, which currently provides oversight to DoD schools overseas, would have its mandate expanded to include stateside DoD schools. These provisions appear in both the House and Senate versions of the legislation.
- Health care: The Senate version of the bill would direct TRICARE to cover breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling, as most private insurance companies do. TRICARE would also be authorized to cover “emerging health care products,” such as lab-developed tests for cystic fibrosis and other genetic conditions.
While we are inching closer to legislation that will fund the DoD in the coming fiscal year, there is still a long way to go – and still the potential for change. We will continue to monitor Congress and keep Representatives and Senators informed on issues important to military families. They want to hear from you too! We encourage military families to reach out to their Representatives and Senators to let them know how they feel about proposed changes to benefits and compensation. Make your voice heard!
Until military families are relieved of the weight of war, we hope you will continue to contribute to their wellbeing.
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