In a 269-151 vote, House lawmakers on Friday passed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. There were strong and understandable objections from some lawmakers in both parties, however, over the use of war funding designations to circumvent caps on defense spending.
Like the budget resolution that Congress recently passed, the House legislation includes $89.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which is supposed to directly support combat operations and is exempt from caps set by the Budget Control Act.
That OCO amount is $38 billion higher than President Obama requested. Many lawmakers, including House Armed Services Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), decried the congressional move as a gimmick to avoid defense spending caps. He and most other Democrats voted against the bill.
On the positive side, the legislation pursues a recommendation from a congressionally-appointed commission to modernize military compensation by giving all service members access to a thrift savings defined-contribution pension plan — available to other federal employees — starting in 2018. A smaller defined-benefit plan for members of the military who serve more than 20 years would be retained.
This is an encouraging sign that lawmakers are finally considering reforms to military pay and benefits, the fastest growing part of the defense budget. Some analysts and military leaders warn that current compensation practices are fiscally unsustainable.