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August 14, 2020

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Battle Over Defense Legislation

The House of Representatives is now considering the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) reported out the $513 billion measure on May 7th rejecting many of the Administration’s requests including reduction in military pay raise, authority for the base closures, as well as cancellation of older weapon platforms, like the A-10 Warthog.

The HASC bill has been criticized for not embracing the Department of Defense’s reform proposals, which some argue are necessary under sequestration. Nevertheless, the HASC bill managed to avoid adopting these reforms and still remain under the budget caps set for defense in the Bipartisan Budget Act.

How did HASC remain under the budget caps?  The answer resides in the out years. The HASC’s strategy is to avoid making fundamental changes now in the hope that sequestration will be reversed and the military will see increased funding in the future. But, unless changes are made to the defense budget in the coming years, there won’t be funding to sustain many of the platforms and programs the HASC bill supports.  This is a risky bargain. The political stars are not aligned for a change to the budget caps.

The first test for the HASC approach will be this week on the House floor where there are already amendments filed seeking to reverse HASC’s position on base closure  and some weapon platforms. Separately, the Senate Armed Services Committee takes up the NDAA this week. It remains to be seen to what extent they choose to follow the HASC bill or adopt the Department of Defense’s proposals.

Further uncertainty was introduced  by the White House threat to veto the legislation proposed by HASC.  A serious battle is looming between the White House and Congress.  The stakes are large with the outcome affecting the future of the country’s military.

© 2020 Covington & Burling LLPNational Law Review, Volume IV, Number 140

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