By Dan Merry and René Campos
The president’s budget request for FY 2024 comes in at $6.8 trillion — can such a hefty request survive this Congress?
It will take several months to assess the support from both parties and chambers. In the mix will be strong debates about the budget’s impact on Medicare, taxes on the wealthy, and the nation’s growing deficit.
Our focus now is to break down key provisions for the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Commerce. These departments represent all eight of our uniformed services.
The budget requests $880 billion for defense programs (an increase of 3.3% over last year). From those programs, DoD garners $842 billion ($26 billion more than FY 2023) and nearly $100 billion more than FY 2022. The remaining portion of that overall budget includes $38 billion to DoD to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent.
This budget includes a 5.2% pay raise for uniformed servicemembers – consistent with the statuary requirement to keep pace with the Employment Cost Index. Although some news outlets are reporting this increase as "the largest military pay raise in 20 years," our servicemembers’ pay is still 2.6% behind ECI after falling short of the index from 2014 to 2016. The budget also includes a 5.2% pay increase for federal civilians, an area where competition for talent has struggled with the private sector.
[RELATED: Here’s Why the 2024 Military Pay Raise Should Be the Largest in Decades]
Per budget documents, one of the administration’s focus points is to ensure the budget “Fulfills America’s Commitment to Military Families.” Noted is the continued support for families, which are key to readiness and the well-being of the all-volunteer force. The proposed budget acknowledges program increases for things like expansion of community-based child care fee assistance, and efforts to address the challenges of child care capacity. MOAA will follow this closely to understand the actual amounts committed and the effectiveness of these concerted efforts.
Overall military end strength, both the active and reserve components, increases by 12,355. This includes a reduction in the Army Reserve by 2,200, and plus-ups for the Marines (683), Navy (6,247) and Air and Space Force (7,625).
The budget includes $1.45 billion to subsidize commissary operations, $27 million more than last year.
Under the Department of Labor, impacting military spouses, is a provision to expand anti-discrimination and reemployment protections to spouses of all active duty and reserve members. MOAA will review the finer details when they become available and assert the need for these provisions to apply to all eight of our uniformed services.
The budget requests $325 billion for the VA, a 5% increase over the previous year. The proposal includes over $142 billion in discretionary funding, much of which goes toward veterans’ health care, and over $182 billion in mandatory funding to cover compensation and pensions, readjustment benefits, and insurance and indemnities accounts. As required by law, the administration is also requesting advance appropriations of $134 billion for medical care and $193 billion for benefits programs for FY 2025.
The budget proposal supports many of MOAA’s legislative priorities for veterans with the 118th Congress, as recently highlighted during a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees on March 8, stressing the need to implement toxic exposure reforms, modernize and fully fund the VA, preserve and expand servicemembers’ consumer protections, and help reserve component members access the benefits they’ve earned.
[RELATED: MOAA Testimony to Joint Congressional Panel Outlines Key Priorities for Veterans]
A few key priorities in VA’s budget proposal:
- Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022. Focuses on implementing the historic measure signed into law last year to provide more than 5 million eligible veterans health care and disability compensation benefits.
- Medical Care. Fully funds inpatient, outpatient, mental health, and long-term care services and enhancements to improve health care quality and delivery. The proposal once again includes the administration’s desire to establish a third budget category for veterans’ medical care. Currently, discretionary funding in the federal budget is categorized as either defense or non-defense or domestic spending. The proposed third category would prevent growing VA medical care costs from competing with other non-defense federal program spending.
- Veteran Suicide. Expands suicide prevention and mental health programs and services to include free emergency health care to veterans in crisis and grant funding to local communities to provide suicide prevention services to eligible veterans and their families.
- Women Veterans Health Care. Prioritizes support to the more than 627,000 women veterans using VA services. The budget expands health care to include reproductive services, gender-specific care, support for full-time women veteran program managers at 172 VA medical centers, and expanded child care programs.
- Homeless Veterans. Provides more than 40,000 homeless and at-risk veterans with permanent housing and access to health care and support services.
- Medical Facilities. Invests in construction and expansion of critical medical infrastructure and facilities including non-recurring maintenance and construction grants for state extended care facilities to deliver health care and benefit services for veterans. The median age of a VA hospital is nearly 60 years old compared to 13 years in the private sector.
- Memorial Benefits. Supports the maintenance of the 158 VA-managed cemeteries and the operations and activation of three new national cemeteries.
Homeland Security (United States Coast Guard)
“The President’s budget provides $12.1 billion in net discretionary funding to sustain readiness, resilience, and capability while building the Coast Guard of the future,” noted Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
Modernizing the Coast Guard will shape their capability and presence in the Arctic region, supported by $579 million for the Offshore Patrol Cutter program, $55 million to advance the Great Lakes Icebreaker acquisition, $170 million for a third new Polar Security Cutter, and another $150 million for commercial polar icebreakers to augment Coast Guard operations.
Health and Human Services (U.S. Public Health Service)
As a uniformed service, the USPHS falls under the DoD pay tables for pay raises and other compensation matters. As such, officers and civilian employees would both get the 5.2% pay raise proposed in the budget.
The budget extends the National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass Program benefit to USPHS Commission Corps officers.
Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
NOAA officers also fall under the DoD pay tables so they, and their federal civilian counterparts, would get the 5.2% pay raise.
The budget requests $231 million for NOAA’s climate research programs, $7 million more than last year. Another $60 million is requested to expand offshore wind permits – this is $39 million more than last year.
What’s Next for the Budget?
Like other federal program proposals in the budget, more information on the specific departments will become known in the coming weeks. The president’s budget serves as a starting point for lawmakers’ negotiations. Department secretaries will be required to justify their budget proposal before the House and Senate committees starting this month.
While the road ahead is uncertain and there is much more to be learned about this budget, some committee members have signaled their opposition to the budget request, and others seek better controls over the rising costs of programs within the varying departments.
Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), is MOAA's vice president of Government Relations. Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret), is MOAA's senior director of Government Relations for Veterans-Wounded Warrior Care.
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