What the new budget bill means for defense, VA

What the new budget bill means for defense, VA

The $1.1 trillion spending bill approved by the Senate over the weekend gives the Pentagon $554 billion for fiscal 2015, gives the Veterans Affairs Department $160 billion, and gives much needed predictability to the federal budget.

The agreement was finalized during a rare weekend voting session to avoid a partial government shutdown. Lawmakers in the House and Senate had to pass two short-term funding extensions in the last few days just to ensure programs and offices could remain open.

But the new omnibus spending measure does more than just extend budget authorities for a few weeks or months. It sets a new budget for the remainder of fiscal 2015 for all federal agencies except the Department of Homeland Security.

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That’s something that agency heads — and especially Pentagon budget planners — have been pursuing for years, arguing that temporary spending measures leave too much uncertainty and little room for starting new programs.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law in coming days.

Defense Department funding

The spending measure includes $490 billion in base defense spending and another $64 billion in overseas contingency funds.

The total is a drop of almost $18 billion in defense spending from fiscal 2014, with all of that reduction coming from a decrease in the overseas mission funding. The White House had asked for about $200 million more, but the measure still represents an increase of just under 1 percent for the department from fiscal 2014 spending.

It mirrors the defense authorization bill earlier passed by Congress by mandating a 1 percent pay raise for troops in 2015 and a 1 percent reduction in housing stipend inflation growth next year. Civilian employees of the department will also see a 1 percent pay raise next year.

About $5 billion will be set aside for operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, including $1.6 billion for training Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. Training and sustainment of Afghanistan security forces will total $4.1 billion.

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