MOAA LEGISLATIVE ALERT - June 22, 2018
Senate Passes Defense Bill: Here Are the Key Takeaways
By: James F. Naughton Jr.
June 20, 2018
In an 85 to 10 vote, the Senate on Monday passed its version of the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The sprawling legislation must now be reconciled with the House, which passed its version of the bill in May.
The bill authorizes a 2.6 percent military pay raise, matching both the administration's request and what House lawmakers passed. The raise, consistent with private-sector wage growth, would be the biggest pay raise for servicemembers in eight years. This also aligns with MOAA's 2018 Storming the Hill agenda.
Issues to Watch
(* indicates MOAA's support)
House position: No new fees*
Senate position: Repeal grandfathering
MOAA Position: The most controversial provision in the Senate bill unwinds an important TRICARE grandfathering provision from last year's defense bill. The move repeals protections for health care beneficiaries who entered into the service prior to Jan. 1 from a new cost share structure, one with higher fees and pharmacy copays.
MOAA strongly opposes the Senate provision. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, higher out-of-pocket costs will push 20,000 beneficiaries out of TRICARE.
House position: “Sense of Congress” to end the widows tax ASAP*
Senate position: Nothing
MOAA position: While the Senate remained silent on survivors benefits, the House included a language providing a “sense of Congress” that they “must work together to find a way to eliminate the widows' tax entirely.” It may seem like a small gesture, but the language provides a line in the sand for us to return to lawmakers and say “You've admitted this is wrong. Now let's work towards a solution.”
House position: No change to BAH
Senate position: No change to BAH
MOAA position: BAH is an essential part of Regular Military Compensation and should not be reduced.
Senators offered hundreds of amendments to the bill, including several MOAA-supported proposals to eliminate the widows tax, expand concurrent receipt, and to provide transition assistance to military spouses, but only a handful of amendments were voted on.
Sens. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) had a public intraparty feud of the amendment process, each accusing the other of holding up debate on the bill.
The fallout led Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who shepherded the defense bill while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) remains home battling brain cancer, to say he's considering changing the rules for next year's defense bill.
Last week, the administration issued a tepid statement on the bill saying, given the short time between the bill's release and when it was voted on, it was not providing feedback at this time. The statement said the White House would continue to work with Congress as the defense bill goes through the legislative process.
The bill now moves to conference committee for House and Senate lawmakers to iron out differences between the two bills. Lawmakers say they expect to complete their work on the bill by the end of July.
MOAA Joins Veterans Groups' Call for MISSION Act Funding
By: Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)
(Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images)
June 19, 2018
More than 30 national military and veterans service organizations joined forces June 19 to send a letterto Senate leaders, urging them to support a bipartisan amendment to exempt funding for the VA MISSION Act from sequestration.
The “Complete the Mission” amendment was introduced by Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Vice Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
Many of our members are aware the VA MISSION Act was signed into law by the President earlier this month. Barely had the ink dried on the bill before headlines starting hitting the airwaves reporting problems with paying for the massive reform bill.
While Congress agreed on funding until October, lawmakers were unable to agree how to fund the bill for FY 2019 and beyond.
In a last attempt to secure long-term funding for the VA MISSION Act, Shelby and Leahy's amendment would allow Congress to provide sufficient funds without triggering sequestration or requiring cuts to other VA health care programs.
The amendment allows funding currently appropriated through the VA's Veterans Choice Program to be move from a mandatory account - one usually designated for entitlement programs to pay for VA benefits - to a discretionary one where the VA funds its medical programs and services.
However, moving the money to a discretionary account means funding must fall below the budget caps Congress established earlier this year for a two-year funding deal.
Lawmakers did not consider the increased costs associated with the VA MISSION Act when setting the discretionary funding levels for FY 2019, nor the anticipated caps for FYs 2020 and 2021.
“MOAA and other military and veterans service organizations have spent significant time and effort compelling Congress to pass the legislation and to provide the VA with sufficient resources to implement the VA MISSION Act,” says retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, MOAA's President and CEO. “It is imperative the VA not be forced to choose between fully funding its own hospitals and clinics versus community care programs for veterans who would otherwise be forced to wait too long or travel too far to access VA care. There is a developing trend of robbing Peter to pay Paul that we unfortunately are seeing far too often as we work new legislation.”
MOAA Shares Concerns About Commissary-Exchange Merger Plans With DoD
By: Mike BarronDirector of Currently Serving and Retired Affairs, Government RelationsClick to read about the author.
(Defense Department photo)
June 20, 2018
DoD will require congressional approval and authority in order to move forward to consolidate the operations of the Defense Commissary Agency and the Exchange Services (Army and Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps) - collectively known as the defense resale enterprise, into one business enterprise. Regardless, it appears, DoD is pushing ahead with a special task force to provide recommendations that would support this objective.
In a meeting this past week with DoD Chief Management Officer (CMO) John Gibson, the case for why DoD put together a cross functional task force in order to complete the first phase of the community services reform effort was presented to the MSO/VSO community.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan in an earlier memo published May 29, 2018, stated that he agreed with the recommendation from DoD's Reform Management Group (RMG), to consolidation of the defense resale enterprise in order “to achieve the economies and efficiencies necessary for the survivability of the defense resale enterprise and the continued availability of these benefits to our total force, their families, and other authorized patrons.”
In the meeting, MOAA along with others in The Military Coalition (TMC) expressed concerns to DoD about the premise that finding efficiencies in defense resale would best be realized through consolidation. Also expressed was the concern of where any potential savings would be best utilized?
It was widely agreed by the group attending the meeting that any potential savings gleaned from new efficiencies found in the defense enterprise by the task force should be put back into the military community and not used to fund other DoD readiness priorities.
MOAA and our coalition colleagues also made known to DoD officials, that efficiencies such as changes from variable pricing to fixed pricing by different regions - particularly overseas, among others, should be looked at by DoD's newly formed community services task force for cost savings and efficiencies first in presenting their business case analysis, before pressing Congress to agree to support through legislation, a complete move toward consolidation of the defense resale enterprise - an action that MOAA and our coalition colleagues believe could potentially further reduce this important earned benefit.
The Community Services Task Force is set to begin its work in July and will remain in operation for another four to seven months.
Stay engaged with MOAA's updates on this topic for the latest information regarding one of your most important earned benefits.