Senate Committee Wants to Cut Marine Corps Even Smaller, Keeps 3% Troop Pay Raise

The Senate Appropriations Committee released its version of the fiscal 2021 defense funding bill Tuesday, a $688 billion package that contains funding for a 3% troop pay raise but also suggests a reduction of more than 6,000 active-duty Marines.

The plan, which is slightly smaller than President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2021 Pentagon budget of $690 billion, also comes under the $694.6 billion proposal passed by the House — a difference that will have to be resolved during a conference between the chambers in the coming weeks.

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Like the House version, the Senate’s bill would fund a 3% pay raise for active-duty troops, a guarantee that U.S. service members will see a boost to their paychecks beginning Jan. 1.

But unlike the House version, which fully funds the Defense Department’s request for a proposed end strength of 1,351,500, the Senate is proposing an end-strength of 1,345,205 — nearly 6,000 more than is currently authorized but cutting the Marine Corps to 180,000 members.

The current authorized active-duty end strength of the U.S. military is 1,339,500: 480,000 for the Army; 340,500 for the Navy; 332,800 for the Air Force; and 186,200 Marines.

The DoD’s budget request included personnel increases of 5,900 for the Army, 7,300 for the Navy and 900 for the Air Force, as well as a reduction of 2,100 for the Marine Corps from the 2020 authorized figures.

The Senate’s proposal would add personnel above the fiscal 2020 end strength — nearly 13,000 personnel across the Army, Navy and Air Force — but proposes additional cuts to the Marine Corps: another 4,100 on top of the DoD’s request, or 6,200 fewer members than were authorized in fiscal 2020.

The Marine Corps is currently undergoing a sweeping reorganization that is eliminating its tank battalions, trimming infantry units, and cutting some engineering and law enforcement units.

“By and large, these bills are the product of bipartisan cooperation among members of the committee,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said in a release.

The Senate’s bill includes some quality-of-life measures for military personnel and families, with an emphasis on the future of their health services.

To address growing concerns over the DoD’s overhaul of the military health system, the Senate committee has inserted restrictions in its bill that would limit the Defense Health Agency from transferring funding from providing care in-house to the private sector.

The bill would cap the amount of funds that can be transferred from the military health system to private care, and any amount above $15 million would have to be approved by lawmakers.

The bill also would require that the DoD provide a report to Congress updating it on the status of the transfer of military treatment facilities to the Defense Health Agency, to include an assessment of more than 40 capabilities that are currently supported by the services and are to be transferred to DHA, such as acquisitions, clinical operations and clinical quality.

According to Congress, 263 of the 723 military medical facilities and dental clinics have already transferred to the DHA.

The report would require the DHA to explain the cost implications of the transfers, how it plans to meet the services’ medical requirements, and its plan for reducing redundant services.

The bill also requires the DoD to provide Congress with an implementation strategy before it pursues plans to close five military treatment facilities and restructure 43.

“The committee is aware that many communities near military installations rely disproportionately on the medical care provided by MTFs. The committee encourages

DHA to engage in robust discussions with community leaders and private health-care providers in communities near military facilities during any future transition, modernization, and restructuring of MTFs,” committee members wrote.

The House version contains similar language on DoD efforts to reduce services at military hospitals and clinics without input from Congress, but also discourages the military branches from plans to reduce the number of military medical billets.

Unlike the House appropriations bill, the Senate version contains no provisions on several hot-button topics, including renaming bases that honor Confederate officers or restrict funding for building a wall on the border with Mexico.

The House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization bill do have provisions that would require the DoD to remove the names of Confederate officers.

The Senate appropriations proposal includes nearly $68.7 billion for overseas contingency operations — $238,000 below the president’s request but $250 million more than the House version.

The bill also includes:

  • $9.2 million to support wildfire training in the National Guard;
  • Increased funding for the Missile Defense Agency, as well as funding for an additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery;
  • $1.69 billion for 17 additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and associated spare parts;
  • Funding for one Columbia-class submarine, one Virginia-class submarine, two DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers; one Constellation-class frigate; one LPD-17; one Expeditionary Fast Transport; and two T-ATS fleet tugs.
  • Fully funds the Department of the Air Force request for the B-21 bomber program

The Senate Appropriations Committee must vote on the measure before advancing it in the Senate. Once it is approved, the differences between the two bills will have to be negotiated before the bill is scheduled for a final vote and, if passed, go to the president for his signature.

— Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Lawmakers Advance $695 Defense Bill, Include Money to Change Confederate Base Names

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