*Legislative Update 10 June 2016: Senate Scuttles Commissary Privatization

We have 1 Action Item today at Issues 1 below


Summary of Issues


At Issue 1. we see LAST CHANCE TO SUPPORT KEY SENATE AMENDMENTS Several defense bill amendments stop the erosion of active duty pay and benefits. See Issue 1 below for the details and to send a message to our Senators. GF)


At Issue 2. we see PAY, BENEFITS, BUDGET AMENDMENTS HANG UP DEFENSE BILL.  Pay raise in doubt. Sequestration rears its ugly head and stymies progress on the defense bill, jeopardizing chances for a full military pay raise. (See Issue 2 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 3. we see SENATE SCUTTLES COMMISSARY PRIVATIZATIONSenate leaders fend off privatizing commissary. According to a new DoD report, privatizing commissaries could “price them out of existence.” (See Issue 3 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 4. we see KEEP THE HOUSING ALLOWANCE INTACT. “Game-changing” provision would hurt military families. Two senators are waging a passionate fight against a controversial proposal to cut military housing allowances. (See Issue 4 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 5. we see AMENDMENTS OF INTEREST. Defense bill talks drag out in the Senate. Hundreds of amendments continue to be introduced as lawmakers work on the defense bill. (See Issue 5 below for the details. GF)

Collectively We Can and Are Making a Difference


FOR ALL, Please feel free to pass these Weekly Legislative Updates on to your group of Veteran Friends –

don’t be concerned with possible duplications – if your friends are as concerned as we are with Veteran issues, they probably won’t mind getting this from two or more friendly sources






June 10, 2016


Several defense bill amendments stop the erosion of active duty pay and benefits. This is your LAST chance to send a MOAA-suggested message urging your senators to support these critical amendments.


(Click on LAST CHANCE TO SUPPORT KEY SENATE AMENDMENTS here  or above, or go to the “Here is the Process” section at the end of this Email to send messages to our Senators. GF)



June 10, 2016

Every year, Senate leaders want to get the annual defense bill finished early, but their success rate in recent years hasn’t been good.

This year, the Armed Services Committee finished drafting the bill and got it before the full Senate in record time.

But this “must pass” bill has attracted over 500 amendments on everything from Guantanamo detainees to the titles of Pentagon officials.

Two major amendments posed immediate challenges.

One offered by Committee chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would add $18 billion to the overseas contingency operations (OCO), commonly referred to as the war-time account, to pay for a higher military pay raise and larger force levels, among other things. But some see this as a violation of last year’s budget agreement, and others have problems using the OCO account (which isn’t subject to budget limits) to get around spending caps.

Another amendment offered by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the committee, would add another $18 billion to non-defense accounts. The rationale is sequestration required equal cuts in defense and non-defense spending, so any exception should apply equally to both.

These are contentious enough that leadership filed for cloture on both amendments, and neither amendment received the 60 votes needed to cut off debate, meaning that debate can continue indefinitely.

Because of this standoff, it appears the additional funds won’t be approved for either, mainly because of the general refusal of each party to allow a vote on the other party’s amendment.

In addition to these two amendments, senators had hundreds more to sort through. As a result, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed a cloture motion on the entire defense bill. The Friday morning vote succeeded 68-23.

Cloture usually limits not only debate time, but also puts restrictions on what kinds of amendments can be considered. In the past, this has meant limiting amendments to issues already covered in the bill, which could be used to block Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) concurrent receipt amendments, for example. In other cases, leaders have agreed to limit amendments to a specific number for each party.

It’s not an easy issue. MOAA wants a defense bill passed without having to wait until late in the year. But we also hope to get votes on important amendments on concurrent receipt, the military pay raise, and housing allowance changes, among others.

We’ll keep you posted.



June 10, 2016

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the FY17 defense authorization act included a provision to test privatization of up to five commissaries, an effort repeatedly studied – and repeatedly discredited.

When the bill was brought to the full Senate floor, Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) offered an amendment to remove the privatization plan. Thirty seven Senators cosponsored the amendment, and dozens of organizations – including MOAA – provided their support.

The amendment passed by a vote of 70-28.

The news comes as DoD released a report outlining a plan to reduce the reliance on tax dollars for the commissary and the exchange system.

Commissaries would need to increase prices by up to 27 percent to become viable options for private companies to take over. The increase would lead to a projected loss of over $2 billion in sales as patrons shop elsewhere.

The loss of revenue would mean commissaries would need to further increase prices, continuing until “the commissary system prices itself out of existence,” according to the report.

The report addressed past efforts to privatize the commissary system, along with the privatization of existing portions of the system like bakeries, delis, and sushi counters.

Previous attempts at privatization have been unsuccessful. According to DoD, “more than two-thirds of the commissaries serve military populations living in locations that are not profitable for private sector grocers.”

This reinforces a concern brought up by Mikulski, that under a pilot program, private grocers might cherry-pick the locations most likely to be profitable, which would prove the pilot to be successful, when it is not reflective of privatization of the entire system.

The report also reflects the intricacy of benefits tied to the defense resale system, including its relationship with MWR activities, employment for military family members, and scholarships for military children.

The report covered details on the variable pricing models that will be tested, and likely made permanent under the shared language in both the House and Senate versions of the FY17 defense bill.

DoD said it needs more time to discover if there are additional operations that can be privatized that would decrease cost and improve overall efficiency in delivering the benefit. DoD maintains that its first priority remains preserving the benefit for patrons, and closures and reduced savings do not meet that criteria.

MOAA members sent in thousands of messages to their senators opposing commissary privatization. We are grateful DoD and Congress recognized how important the commissary benefit is to the military community, and action to privatize the system is no longer an option in the defense bill.


June 10, 2016


As reported in last week’s update, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) surprised many when it proposed reducing housing benefits to troops in the FY17 defense bill. The SASC provision would allow servicemembers to receive only the actual cost for housing, rather than the housing stipend, which is based currently on rank, geographic location, and dependency status.  (Click on As reported in last week’s update here or above for the details. GF)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced an amendment striking the provision from the defense bill. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined with Murkowski on the senate floor on Thursday, supporting the effort to stop the cut to the housing benefit.

“The current allowance system strikes an appropriate balance in providing compensation to military members and assistance for their living expenses,” said Collins.

The SASC provision would also reduce the combined value of the housing allowances received by dual military couples and roommates. Servicemembers would receive the applicable housing allowance amount for his or her grade, divided by the number of servicemember occupants.

In her statement to Senate colleagues, Collins said, “women are five times more likely to be affected by this reduction in housing allowances than their male counterparts, this provision could have a profound implication for both recruitment and retention of our all-volunteer force and discourage our best and our brightest from staying in the service.”

Collins has been a consistent supporter of maintaining the military housing allowance, and fought to prevent a housing allowance cut in last year’s defense bill.

“Last year I spearheaded a successful movement to remove a similar provision from the fiscal year 2016 NDAA. I am disappointed to see that this proposal has resurfaced again this year. I am pleased to work with my colleague from Alaska [Murkowski] to remove a provision that I believe is both unfair and harmful,” Collins said.

“It is not like our military families don’t have enough to worry about. And that is over and above the anxiety that goes along with deployment,” said Murkowski. “These days they must worry about force structure reductions, frequent PCS moves, needing to understand the latest and greatest TRICARE complexities, and figuring out whether the old retirement paradigm or the new retirement paradigm is better…that just adds to the stress, adds to the anxiety.”

MOAA applauds Murkowski and Collins in their fight to remove this unfair and harmful provision.



June 10, 2016


There have been over 530 amendments introduced in the Senate, and although it is unlikely all of the amendments will come to a vote, there are several MOAA would like to see incorporated into the defense bill:


VA Benefits


Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) submitted an amendment to authorize potential veterans’ benefits to Navy veterans who served onboard ships in the territorial waters of Vietnam during the conflict. Many of these veterans have contracted diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange, but they are denied service-related benefits from the VA due to an arbitrary and unfair limitation to veterans who served “boots on the ground” in Vietnam.


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered an amendment that would include reserve active duty for preplanned missions as qualifying service for GI Bill eligibility.


Survivor Benefit Plan 


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) introduced an amendment that would provide equal benefits under the Survivor Benefit Plan for families of Reserve Component members who die in the line of duty while performing inactive-duty training.


Veteran Status


Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) submitted an amendment that would grant veteran status to members of the Reserve Components who served a career of 20 years or more and are military retirees, but who through no fault of their own are not recognized by our government as “veterans.”


Spouse Employment


Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) championed an amendment making DoD positions noncompetitive for military spouses after a permanent change of duty station.


Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) limited defense bill debate by successfully filing a motion for cloture, MOAA urges the Senate to consider these important amendments.

Here is the Process I recommend that you review all of the steps below and then you might want to copy this process by high lighting all of the steps below.  Then click on “File” at the top of your screen, select “Print“, then click on “Selection” at the next display and then hit “Print“; or print the selected portion as you usually do this kind of task.


  1. Click here onhttp://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” screen.
  2. Scroll downunder “Current Action Alerts” and below Congress click on: Support Key Defense Bill Amendments.
  3. 3.If applicable, at the next screen scroll down to the TAKE ACTION NOW! lineand enter or confirm your Zip code and /or hit “Go!”
  4. 4. Orat that next screen under“COMPOSE MESSAGE” leave the “Message Recipients Delivery Method” as “Email” at your discretion, and then scroll down to “Issue Area” and select an appropriate issue; e.g. ‘Veteran affairs’
  5. Scroll down to the  “Editable text” areaand edit/modify the text of the message if desired,
  6. Insert “Your Closing” (I show ‘Respectfully), and “Your Name” and fill in the rest of the mandatory {asterisked} SENDER INFORMATION.
  7. Fill in the “Guest Type“, “Service“, “Rank“, “Component“, and “Status” if you want that information to show in your message (recommended).  You may be prompted to include a phone numberif you try to send the message without entering your phone number. Don’t be concerned about entering a phone number. I haven’t  received return calls except on rare occasions to thank me for my interest in a particular piece of Legislation, at which time you can comment (pro or con) to the staff member on how the Senator stands on the issue.
  8. Check “Remember Me” (recommended) if you don’t want to have to re-enter all of your Sender Information the next time you send a message. You can always change your information or uncheck ‘Remember Me’ anytime in the future.
  9. Hit “Send Message”
  10. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 4 above, at the screen after hitting “Send Message” leave “Plain Paper Style” and “Word Processor (RTF)” checked unless you have another preference. Then left click on “Print Letter(s)” at the end of the “PRINT LETTER” screen. At the File Download” alert that appears next, click on “Open”. You can then edit and print or save the letter for editing, printing, signing and mailing.



That’s it for today- Thanks for your continuing help!