2015 National Defense Authorization Act passed Congress recently, and the details of the bill have military families worried. In addition to the usual appropriations for aircraft, tanks, and buildings, the bill includes funding for fighting military sexual trauma and conducting various research studies, but it cuts service members pay and benefits.
One would hope that members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees carefully read the half-trillion-dollar bill to be sure that nothing was amiss. However, members of Congress admit that they did not read the bill before passing it.
The 2015 NDAA has been the source of much speculation over the past year, especially as sequestration cuts continue to cause problems for military programs. In recent weeks, the detailed pay and benefits cuts have military families concerned about making ends meet and angry at being a constant fiscal target.
In an agreement reached between both houses of Congress, service members will once again be receiving a cost-of-living pay raise that doesn't cover the increase in the cost of living. For the second year in a row, military members will receive a one percent pay increase.
The bill actually contains a 1.8 percent increase. However, it allows President Obama to negate this and move ahead with his desired one percent raise instead.General and Flag Officers will not receive a pay raise for FY2015. Currently, Congress is
reviewing cuts to General and Flag Officer pensions and other lavish perks as well.
Military members will also see a reduction in their housing allowance, though not as large as originally expected. Congress agreed to a one percent decrease, instead of the originally planned five percent. Thanks to rate protections that keep military members from getting hit with shrinking allowances while having to cover rent on existing leases, however, the new rates will apply to members upon transferring to a new duty station.
Service members and their families are also facing higher out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions filled at civilian pharmacies. The bill mandates a $3 increase in prescription co-pays ever year for the next 10 years. This is in addition to changes that military members were warned about earlier this year from Tricare.
Beneficiaries were informed that unless they changed to the Tricare Standard plan with its higher out-of-pocket costs and civilian providers, they would automatically be changed to military treatment facilities and their civilian doctors would be notified that they would need a referral from the military to continue treatment. This change was to have occurred last month, but problems have delayed its rollout. When this change will be implemented is unclear.
The bill also cuts funding to the Commissary, the military's version of the supermarket that many military families depend on to keep food on the table.
The bill does provide some protection for the much-loved A10 Warthog aircraft, which was slated for retirement. However, thanks to the efforts of Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), flight and maintenance time will be reduced, but the aircraft will remain in active service.
There were a number of other, non-military "pork" provisions in the bill, including the designation of new National Parks and Corridors, and several land deals with Native American tribes. These pork provisions are slated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but attempts to remove them were rejected by the majority of lawmakers.One
deal in particular garnered attention when it became known that it would take 2,500 acres of land sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona and give it to an international mining company, essentially cutting tribal members off from their ancestral ceremonial lands.
With so much riding on this 1,600-page bill, the smallest detail could cost millions of dollars. But when asked if members of Congress had read the bill before passing it, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said, "Of course not. Are you kidding?"
Moran drew public scorn earlier this year for saying that members of Congress were underpaid and couldn't live decently in Washington.
He went on to say that he would not read the bill because he trusted "the leadership." When asked if leadership had read the bill, Moran replied, "I know their staff has."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also indirectly admitted that the bill hadn't been read before it was passed. Hoyer reasoned that because the bill had been through committee and conference and because he had an outline of what was in it, he didn't need to read the entire bill.
There is no reason why the bill couldn't have been read by members of Congress. The entire text of the bill was available to both lawmakers and the public three days before the vote to pass it, as was promised in 2010 when Republicans took control of the House.