May 11, 2016

S. 2806 - Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017

Noteworthy

Background: The fiscal year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill was reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 14 on a 30-0 vote.

Floor Situation: The Senate is expected to debate the bill after consideration of the Energy and Water Appropriations bill.

Executive Summary: The bill totals $83 billion in regular discretionary funding, which would fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, construction projects across all branches of the military, and related agencies. This total is consistent with the 302(b) allocations derived from the Appropriations Committee’s total 302(a) allocation of $1.07 trillion.

Considerations on the Bill

The Appropriations Committee’s 302(a) allocation for all appropriations bills is $1.07 trillion, equal to the amount contained in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill’s total regular discretionary spending of $83 billion is $3.1 billion greater than that in fiscal year 2016, and it is $160 million greater than the president’s budget request. Looking back two years, the bill’s $83 billion is $11.2 billion greater than that provided in fiscal year 2015.

Defense – function 050 – discretionary funding is $7.9 billion in the bill. Non-defense funding is $75.1 billion (this includes the total discretionary funding for Veterans Affairs and $241 million for related agencies). In addition, the bill includes mandatory funding already authorized in law of $102.5 billion. The bill does not contain Overseas Contingency Operations funding.

Legislative text of the bill is available here, and text of the committee report is available here.

Notable Bill Provisions

Military Construction

The bill contains $7.9 billion for military construction activities. This is $241 million less than the fiscal year 2016 level and $313 million greater than the president’s budget request. The president had requested $172 million in military construction projects funded with an Overseas Contingency Operations designation. The committee rejected using OCO for these projects, and the bill fully funds the projects within base discretionary funding.

In report language recognizing the continuing difficulties surrounding the Okinawa Futenma Replacement Facility, the committee encouraged the Department of Defense to consider potential alternatives to the facility that already exist on Okinawa, including facilities at the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station and the Kadena Air Base.

Veterans Affairs

The bill contains $74.9 billion in regular discretionary appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is $3.2 billion greater than the fiscal year 2016 level. The bill also includes $66.4 billion in advance discretionary funding for fiscal year 2018 for veterans medical care and $103.9 billion in fiscal year 2018 advance mandatory funding for veterans benefits.

Section 246 directs the department to establish a Central Whistleblower Office to investigate all whistleblower complaints and increases penalties for those who retaliate against whistleblowers. It also directs the department to establish a training procedure to inform employees of their rights as whistleblowers.

In report language the committee expressed concern about retaliation against whistleblowers at the VA, and it directed the department “to send a clear and unequivocal message throughout the VA system that retaliation against whistleblowers will not stand.”

Section 249 provides that the VA may not interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a medical marijuana program approved by a state, deny VA services to a veteran participating in such a program, or otherwise interfere with the ability of a VA health care provider to make appropriate recommendations to comply with such a program.

In report language the committee commended the department on its efforts to reduce the disability claims backlog, while noting that the goal of clearing the backlog by the end of 2015 was not met. It then directed the department to submit a report on Veterans Benefits Administration actions to streamline the appeals process and further reduce the backlog.

Related Agencies

The bill contains $75.1 million for the American Battle Monuments Commission, equal to the president’s request and $32 million less than the fiscal year 2016 level. The bill contains $30.9 million for the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, equal to the president’s request and $1.2 million below the fiscal year 2016 level. The bill contains $70.8 million for Arlington National Cemetery, equal to the president’s request and $8.7 million below the fiscal year 2016 level. The bill contains $64.3 million for the Armed Forces Retirement Home, equal to both the president’s request and the fiscal year 2016 level.

General Provisions

Section 409 prohibits the use of funds to construct or renovate any facility in the United States to house any Guantanamo detainees. In committee markup, Senator Durbin proposed an amendment to strike section 409. This amendment was tabled by a vote of 16-14.

Administration Position

A statement of administration policy is not available at this time.

Cost

The military construction and veterans affairs bill’s total regular discretionary spending of $83 billion is $3.1 billion greater than that in fiscal year 2016, and it is $160 million greater than the president’s budget request. The bill contains defense – function 050 – discretionary funding of $7.9 billion and non-defense funding of $75.1 billion.

Amendments

The amendment situation is unclear at this time.