The omnibus appropriations deal reached by congressional leaders late Tuesday night will provide $573 billion for defense operations in fiscal 2016, another $163 billion for Department of Veterans Affairs programs and about nine months of budget stability for federal agencies that have faced various looming shutdown threats since September.

The $1.15 trillion federal spending measure is expected to become law in the next few days, officially ending the fiscal 2016 budget saga seven weeks after lawmakers agreed on a two-year plan to get around mandatory spending caps and avoid the budget brinksmanship that has become commonplace on Capitol Hill.

Still, Congress had to approve a series of last-minute fiscal 2015 budget extensions in recent days to keep the government operating. Approval of the new deal will give agency officials their funds through September 2016, allowing them to launch new initiatives and expand existing programs.

For defense, $58.6 billion of the fiscal 2016 money comes in the form of overseas contingency operations funding, which had been a point of contention between Congress and the White House for most of the year.

Republicans had proposed using the temporary war accounts to get around budget caps for defense, but Democrats objected because that would have left severe limits in place on spending for domestic programs.

In the end, both military and nonmilitary accounts saw a boost from the spending caps, although the total fell about $5 billion short of what Pentagon planners had proposed last February.

Defense programs

The defense spending plan includes a 1.3 percent pay raise for both military and civilian employees starting in January. That’s 0.3 percent higher than the military pay raise for 2015, but below the expected increase in average civilian wages for the third year in a row.

For an E-4 with three years of service, the raise means about $350 more in take-home pay next year. An O-4 with 12 years will get about $1,090 more.

The funding plan also boosts military Basic Allowance for Housing funds by $300 million above the White House's request but goes along with a Pentagon plan to slow BAH growth to cover only 98 percent of average local rent costs next year, with troops paying the other 2 percent out of pocket.

Lawmakers did not address previously discussed plans to overhaul and consolidate Tricare operations but will discuss those changes as part of a broader review of the military health care system in the coming months.

The appropriations measure also includes language that continues to ban discounts on tobacco products sold in military exchanges, put in place last year to support the Pentagon's anti-smoking efforts.

It also includes $213.6 billion for operations and maintenance, including $608 million to reduce readiness shortfalls, a major point of concern for Pentagon planners in recent years.

Lawmakers assigned several pools of money to work with allies, including $3.7 billion for the Afghan Security Forces Fund, $1.1 billion for the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, $715 million for the Iraq Train and Equip Fund, and $250 million for assistance and lethal weapons for Ukraine.

Veterans programs

The $163 billion appropriated for VA operations in fiscal 2016 includes $71.4 billion in discretionary funding, an almost 10 percent jump in that account from fiscal 2015 levels.

The total includes $7.5 billion for mental health care operations, $4.9 billion to cover medical costs of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, $4.7 billion for female-specific health care programs, and $7.5 billion for institutional and other long-term support of aging veterans.

Lawmakers matched the VA's request for $1.4 billion to support efforts to help homeless veterans, to continue efforts to reduce the number of vets living on the streets.

They also added $1.5 billion to the White House budget request for new Hepatitis-C medications, treatments that have proven to be lifesaving for VA patients but significantly more costly than officials predicted earlier this year.

The bill contains almost $700 million in additional funds related to the VA's first-time disability claims backlog, which has fallen from about 612,000 cases in spring 2013 to fewer than 78,000 claims this month. But lawmakers say the money is needed to help eliminate the backlog and ensure similar problems don’t surface again.

On construction, the bill includes $1.24 billion for major projects and $406 million for minor projects, matching department requests after months of lawmaker complaints about mismanagement and waste in the construction programs.

House and Senate leaders are hopeful the measure can be finalized before Christmas, possibly as early as this weekend.

Reporter Joe Gould contributed to this story.

216 13 LINKEDIN 3 COMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://militari.ly/1QMQVp5