Pay & Benefits

$579 billion defense bill passed by House panel

House appropriators Tuesday advanced a $579 billion defense budget bill for fiscal 2016 that Republicans lauded as a responsible step toward funding national security and Democrats decried as another step toward fiscal chaos.

The funding measure, approved by the House Appropriations Committee, includes a 10 percent boost in equipment procurement, a 3 percent increase for operations and maintenance funding, and enough money for a 2.3 percent military pay raise next year.

The total cost of the measure roughly matches the president's request for military spending in fiscal 2016, but did little to change White House objections over Republican budget plans.

The vote came just a day after yet another reprimand of Congress from White House officials who criticized Republican lawmakers' ongoing work on budget bills that keep in place spending caps under the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Key to those larger budget plans is the defense budget, which includes $88.4 billion in temporary war funding. That's about $38 billion above the Pentagon's request for contingency operations worldwide, expanding the definition of war-related needs to get around spending caps for the fiscal 2016 military budget.

In a letter to Congress on Monday, Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan wrote that "the decision to circumvent rather than confront sequestration harms national security" by lowering available money for State Department and other nondefense security agencies.

President Obama has threatened to veto any and all budget bills that keep the spending caps in place, which Democrats have warned sets up the possibility of a government shutdown later this year.

But congressional leaders have all but given up on a compromise that would remove the spending caps this year, and Republican lawmakers have replied to the veto threats with incredulity that the president would block a military funding bill over unrelated and less critical funding.

In defense of the legislation, Republican lawmakers repeatedly referenced their plans for a 2.3 percent pay raise, well above the Pentagon's stated plans for a 1.3 percent paycheck boost next year.

The higher pay raise would add between $250 and $800 a year to most troops' pay, but will also cost about $4 billion more over the next five years — money Pentagon planners want to spend on modernization and readiness accounts.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has already backed the lower 1.3 percent raise in its draft of the annual defense authorization bill. That measure also includes cuts to housing stipend adjustments, something the House appropriations plan rejected.

The full House will debate the defense appropriations bill in the coming weeks. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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