WASHINGTON, DC — A bipartisan conference committee of Senate and House members has approved a final defense bill authorizing $633 billion in defense spending for 2013, including a 1.7 percent pay raise for U.S. military personnel. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 also sets critical defense policies, including support for tighter sanctions on Iran and the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2014.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and a member of the conference committee, says the bill “will help provide critical resources to help defend our nation, protect our troops, and strengthen national security.”
Reed helped restore nearly $778 million in advance procurement funding in the bill so that the Navy may purchase two Virginia-class submarines in 2014. The bill also authorizes the funding for other major shipbuilding programs, including the DDG-1000, which so many Rhode Islanders help outfit.
In an effort to protect service members and their families from abusive financial practices, Senator Reed authored provisions that strengthen the Military Lending Act (MLA), in particular to allow all federal agencies responsible for federal credit laws to use their civil enforcement capabilities to enforce the 36% interest rate cap applied to certain financial products and services for service members and their families.
Reed and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) also included language to improve access to needed mental health services for members of the National Guard and Reserves and their families. Based on the Reed-Ayotte Joining Forces for Military Mental Health Act, the bill authorizes DOD to enter into community partnerships with non-profit organizations and institutions engaged in research, treatment, education, and outreach on mental health, substance use disorders, and traumatic brain injury to ensure that every member of the National Guard and Reserves, as well as their families, gets the mental and behavioral health care that he or she needs.
In an effort to protect servicemembers, veterans, and their families from rising health care costs, the bill parallels Senator Reed’s amendment, which replaces substantial increases to the prescription drug copayments for TRICARE beneficiaries proposed by DOD in its FY13 budget with more modest ones, bumping the copayment for “formulary” (DOD’s list of approved drugs) brand name prescription drugs at retail pharmacies, for example, from $12 to $17, versus $26 as proposed by DOD. It also caps any future increases in copayments at no more than the annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). Reed’s bipartisan amendment, cosponsored by Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), achieved significant savings by requiring beneficiaries 65 and older to enroll in a 5-year TRICARE mail order pharmacy pilot program. Under this program, refills of all “maintenance medication” -- drugs that help control chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes – would be obtained by mail.
Additionally, Senator Reed backed key provisions in the bill to improve the ability of the Armed Forces to counter non-traditional threats, focusing on terrorism, cyber warfare, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He also supported an amendment to ensure the Pentagon has the flexibility to pursue alternative fuel technologies that not only help them achieve their mission but also help our country reduce our dependence on oil. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has made biofuels a centerpiece of creating a “green fleet” of ships that demonstrated in a Pacific exercise this summer that they could run on alternative energy sources.
The bill also includes funding for the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General (IG), to enable the IG to provide more effective oversight and help identify waste, fraud, and abuse in DOD programs, especially in the area of procurement. Additionally, the bill improves the cost-effectiveness of DOD contracting by strictly limiting the use of cost-type contracts for the production of major weapon systems, and enhancing protections for contractor employee whistleblowers.
The bill authorizes funding for the Defense Research and Development Rapid Innovation Program to aid in technology transition across a broad spectrum of technologies, including those which will improve manufacturing capabilities, enhance energy security, and develop cybersecurity tools.
It requires the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to develop and implement a plan to increase by up to 1,000 Marine Corps personnel assigned to provide security at U.S. embassies and other facilities.
And the bill rejects the Obama Administration’s request for new rounds of base closures in 2013 and 2015.
The bill is scheduled to be voted on by the full U.S. House of Representatives on December 20, followed by a Senate vote that would then allow the bill to be signed into law by the President.