The White House in May requested a $4 trillion federal budget for fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1. The spending plan is notable because it marks President Donald Trump's first budget request and calls for boosting defense spending by cutting domestic programs.
Why It Matters: Congress has the power of the purse and ultimately authorizes and appropriates federal funding. But the president's request sets the stage for a series of debates on Capitol Hill throughout the year about policy and spending, especially on matters related to defense, which makes up the largest slice -- upwards of $600 billion -- of the $1 trillion in discretionary (optional) spending.
Bottom Line: The Defense Department, Veterans Affairs Department and Homeland Security Department all fared well in the president's budget request (PBR) compared to other federal agencies, with each slated to receive funding boosts for a number of programs affecting troops, family members and veterans. But while the levels would require lifting spending caps known as sequestration, the Trump budget request fell short of what he pledged for the military during his campaign.
What's Ahead: The House and Senate will hold hearings and ultimately vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets policy and spending targets, and the corresponding appropriations bill, which sets actual funding amounts. The chambers write their own bills, then must reconcile the text in a negotiated or conference version -- often after marathon sessions -- before it heads to the president for his signature.
Here's a timeline of the legislative action so far -- and a look at what departments would receive in the next fiscal year and how various programs and issues would be impacted:
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request prioritizes defense spending, but not to the degree he vowed on the campaign trail. The nearly $640 billion Pentagon budget request includes a $574.5 billion base budget and $65 billion war budget -- a 3 percent increase from the current year's enacted amount. It would add 8,100 troops, mostly airmen, and 10 ships, but also cut 101 aircraft, according to Pentagon budget documents. Defense hawks in Congress want a bigger increase in defense spending.
The Latest: There isn't clarity yet on what the topline defense numbers will be. The Trump administration vowed a massive defense buildup, but while its request grows the military and boosts research-and-development funding, it keeps procurement funding to buy weapons and equipment largely flat. Senate appropriators in late July proposed far less defense spending than the other congressional defense committees. Their figure of $513 billion for base defense programs is worth noting because it approaches the level mandated by spending caps known as sequestration. They also proposed $82 billion for Pentagon war funds, which aren't affected by sequestration.
Department: Veterans Affairs
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request for the VA totaled $186 billion, a 3.6 percent increase from the current year and double the level from a decade ago. The spending plan includes more than $104 billion in mandatory spending and more than $82 billion in discretionary spending (a nearly 6 percent increase from the current year). The plan called for expanding the Choice program allowing vets to seek private care while cutting the Individual Unemployability (IU) benefit for elderly and disabled vets, and curbing cost-of-living increases to the nearest dollar.
The Latest: The VA reversed course on the proposal to cut the IU benefit after an outcry from veteran service organizations (VSOs) such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Congress hasn't yet finalized a VA funding level for the next fiscal year, though lawmakers in August approved bills to temporarily continue funding for the Choice program and a historic expansion of the post-9/11 GI Bill. A Senate appropriations panel in July approved $78 billion in discretionary spending for the department.
Department: Homeland Security
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request for Homeland Security totaled nearly $71 billion, a 7 percent increase from the current year. The spending plan includes $44 billion in discretionary spending and prioritizes programs consistent with President Trump's executive orders to enhance border security and enforce immigration laws, from EVerify to the new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, and also "fully supports" the U.S. Coast Guard, which falls under the department, according to budget documents.
The Latest: The White House quickly backed off a "pre-decisional" plan to cut funding for the Coast Guard after an outcry from advocates and lawmakers. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) initially called for reducing the service's budget by $1.3 billion. The service, whose total budget for the current year is just $10.3 billion, would have been forced to cancel a contract for a new national security cutter and make other reductions in order to comply with the spending cut.
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request for the Armytotaled $166 billion, an increase of $5 billion, or 3 percent, from the curent year's enacted amount. That topline figure includes a base budget of $137 billion and a war budget of $29 billion for overseas contingency operations, or OCO. The funding would keep the total force flat at 1.01 million soldiers, including 476,000 in the active force, 343,000 in the National Guard and 199,000 in the Reserve. The spending plan identifies air and missile defense, long-range fires and critical munitions shortfalls as the Army's top weapons priorities.
The Latest: House lawmakers voted to add 17,000 more soldiers to the president's proposal, including 10,000 in the active component, 4,000 in the Guard and 3,000 in the Reserve. They also want the service to buy more weapons and equipment, including helicopters such as AH-64 Apaches, CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks; drones such as MQ-1 Gray Eagles (extended range); combat vehicles such as M1 Abram tank upgrades, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Stryker upgrades; Javelin anti-tank missiles and Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS). The House and Senate haven't yet negotiated final figures.
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request for the Department of the Navy (including the Navy and Marine Corps) totaled $180 billion, an increase of $5 billion, or about 3 percent, from the current year's enacted amount. That topline figure includes a base budget of almost $172 billion and a war budget of $8 billion for overseas contingency operations, or OCO. The sea service's share totals $152 billion, an increase of $5 billion, or 3.5 percent, from the enacted plan. The funding would increase the total force by 2,200 sailors, or 1 percent, to almost 387,000, including 328,000 in the active force and 59,000 in the Reserve, according to budget documents. The spending plan would increase the number of ships in the fleet by 10, or 3.5 percent, to 292.
The Latest: Navy officials said the end-strength increase would actually be closer to 4,000 sailors, mostly enlisted troops, in fiscal 2018. What's more, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke has said a planned fleet buildup would need between 20,000 and 40,000 more sailors. House lawmakers want the service to buy more weapons and equipment, including P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and F/A-18 Hornet fighters, another DDG-51 destroyer, Littoral Combat Ships, amphibious transport dock (LPD), expeditionary transfer dock (ESD), and ship-to-shore connectors. The House and Senate haven't yet negotiated final figures.
Service: Air Force
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request for the Air Forcetotaled $183 billion, an increase of $8 billion, or 4.5 percent, from the current year's enacted amount. That topline figure includes a base budget of $165 billion and a war budget of nearly $18 billion for overseas contingency operations, or OCO. The funding would increase the total Air Force by 5,700 airmen, or 1 percent, to almost 502,000, including 325,000 in the active force, almost 107,000 in the Air National Guard and nearly 70,000 in the Reserve, according to budget documents. The spending plan would cut the number of aircraft in the active component by 86 to 4,015 and in the Guard by 17 to 1,073, and increase the number of planes in the Reserve by two to 328.
The Latest: House lawmakers want the service to buy more weapons and equipment, including F-35 Joint Strike Fighters -- the Pentagon's most expensive acquisition program -- as well as HC-130J Combat King II search-and-rescue aircraft and MC-130J Commando II special operations aircraft, and KC-46A refueling tankers. The House and Senate haven't yet negotiated final figures.
Service: Marine Corps
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request for the Marine Corps totaled almost $28 billion, an increase of $1.5 billion, or almost 6 percent, from the enacted 2017 spending plan. That topline figure includes a base budget of $26 billion and a war budget of slightly more than $1 billion for overseas contingency operations, or OCO. The funding would essentially keep the total force flat at 223,500 Marines, including 185,000 in the active force and almost 39,000 in the Reserve, according to budget documents.
The Latest: House lawmakers want the service to buy more weapons and equipment, including V-22 Ospreys, KC-130J refueling tankers, AH-1Z Viperattack helicopter and Hercules improved recovery vehicles. The House and Senate haven't yet negotiated final figures.
Issue: Troop Pay
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request includes a 2.1 percent pay hike for military members in 2018. The pay request topped the proposal by the administration of former President Barack Obama for a military pay hike of 1.6 percent for next year, but was the same as the increase enacted by Congress for the current year. The raise would translate into about $50 more per month for enlisted troops with four years of service and about $115 a month for officers with six years.
The Latest: House lawmakers voted to increase the troop pay raise to 2.4 percent and to extend special pays and bonuses for service members next year. While a Senate panel approved a 2.1 percent increase, some senators agree with their counterparts in the House to require the president to follow the existing statute by linking pay raises to the Employment Cost Index of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure is 2.4 percent for the 12-month period through March, according to BLS. The House and Senate haven't yet negotiated a final figure.
Issue: Housing Allowance
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request includes a previous plan to reduce the Basic Allowance for Housing to 95 percent of the median housing cost by 2019. Under that change, out-of-pocket expenses were set at 2 percent in 2016, 3 percent in 2017, 4 percent in 2018 and 5 percent in 2019. The spending plan didn't include another proposal to curb BAH for new entrants by covering only what they actually pay in rent and by reducing the combined value of the benefit received by military couples or roommates.
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The Latest: Senators continue to eye the military housing allowance for reductions. As it stands now, dual military couples each collect their own BAH. If they have kids, one parent collects BAH at the "with dependents" rate and the other collects it at the "without dependents" rate. A proposal in the Senate's defense authorization bill would list both parents at the "without dependents" rate, reducing the couple's compensation from $100 to $600 or more per month, depending on rank and location. The House and Senate haven't yet decided on the language.
The Proposal: The president's fiscal 2018 budget request would increase Tricare fees for current retirees and all troops who later enter the military retirement system. Fees under the 2017 NDAA are $450 for individuals and $900 for families on Tricare Select and $350 for individuals and $700 for families under Tricare Prime. Under the new plan, Prime enrollment costs for retiree families would increase by almost $150 per year, while the fee for the "Select" plan, similar to the current "Standard" option, would triple. The annual catastrophic cap -- the most users pay out of pocket for covered services -- would also increase from $3,000 to $3,500 for retirees.
The Latest: It's not immediately clear where Congress stands on this Tricareproposal. The House approved extending by a year a pilot program to gauge whether offering discounts for prescription drugs filled at retail pharmacies would reduce costs. A Senate panel, meanwhile, proposed allowing reservists who are eligible for the Federal Employee Health Benefit to purchase TRICARE Reserve Select.