Murkowski Applauds Final Passage of Major Defense Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today S.2943, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), was passed by the Senate in a vote of 85-13. This legislation outlines defense priorities to defend our homeland, and support our troops and their families around the world.

“With the very real threats around the world, this is one of the most important bills the Senate will take up this year. Not only does it provide the resources to support those who serve, it also contains numerous Arctic and Alaska-specific provisions that will enable the Pentagon to better utilize Alaska’s geographic and strategic advantages for national security,” said Senator Murkowski.

Basic Allowance for Housing

Senator Murkowski played a leading role in opposing Section 604 of the bill which makes sweeping changes to the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) paid to active duty military. The military currently pays a flat rate BAH to every active duty servicemember who does not live in government supplied housing based upon average housing and utility costs in the community, the member’s rank, and whether the member has dependents. If servicemembers pay less for housing they have more to spend on utilities, food, and childcare expenses under the current law. Section 604 would change BAH to a reimbursement program with a fixed allowance for utilities. The Pentagon calls this a reduction in total compensation which will adversely affect recruiting, retention and morale.

Senator Murkowski, joined by Senators Sullivan (R-AK), Boozman (R-AR), Ayotte (R-NH),  Schumer (D-NY), Collins (R-ME), Isakson (R-GA), Tester (D-MT), Boxer (D-CA), and Rounds (R-SD), submitted an amendment to strike Section 604.

The House version of the NDAA does not include the Senate’s BAH changes. Murkowski vowed to lead a campaign to have the Senate changes dropped in a House-Senate conference committee later this year.

“I am deeply frustrated that this bill makes sweeping changes to the Basic Allowance for Housing paid to active duty military families which are strongly opposed by our nation’s military leaders. It is disappointing that the Senate did not process my amendment to stop these cuts and protect the earned benefits our servicemembers and military families and rely on.”

Preserving the Commissary Benefit

Senator Murkowski co-sponsored an amendment, which was passed by the Senate, which blocks the privatization of commissaries which could erode the value of the commissary benefit to military families.

“Commissaries are one of the ways our nation expresses its appreciation to military families and retirees for their service. Like any other government organization we need to encourage efficiencies in the operation of our commissaries, but that does not mean closing stores, cutting hours, or hiking prices,” Murkowski said. “If there is one thing our military families can count on, it is reasonable grocery prices at the commissary wherever they serve. Privatizing our commissaries places the food security of our military families and retirees at risk. It is the wrong way to go.”

Advancing Defense Medical Research

The NDAA contains an amendment co-sponsored by Murkowski that blocks a proposed downsizing of Department of Defense military research programs, including the popular Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program. The amendment maintains funding for medical research into causes, treatments, and therapies for diseases that affect our military men and women and military families. Ensuring research for diseases such as ALS, which is presumptively service-connected and has a much higher rate of incidence among the military than the public, is a key part of making sure our troops are protected both at home and abroad.

“It is absolutely critical that we maintain funding for research into causes, treatments, and therapies for diseases that affect those who serve on the battlefield, their spouses, and dependents. It is especially important to support ALS research, which is presumptively service-connected and for reasons still unexplained, has a much higher rate of incidence among military members than members of the public,” Murkowski said. “And with an ever-increasing number of women serving in the military, it is equally important that our nation continues its commitment to breast cancer research. Medical research in the Defense Department is another way we demonstrate to those who place their lives on the line that the American people have their back.”

Davis Park

The U.S. Air Force has leased Davis Park and the adjoining Lions Park, in Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood rent free, for decades. Davis Park is leased to the Municipality of Anchorage while Lions Park is leased to the Mountain View Lions Club. Recent changes in the law require that the Air Force assess fair market value rent for leases of military property, even if the lease furthers a public benefit.  This bill contains an amendment sponsored by Senator Murkowski, which allows the Air Force to renew the existing rent free leases for Davis Park and Lions Park for up to 25 years.

“This is a clear case where changes in the law can have unintended consequences that make no policy sense. We worked together with the Air Force on a solution that enables these two parcels of military land to be preserved as open space for the mutual benefit of military families and the broader community,” said Murkowski.

HAARP Site in Glennallen

The NDAA authorizes the Air Force to transfer the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) site near Glennallen to the University of Alaska which plans to continue to use the site for scientific research. This represents the final chapter in Senator Murkowski’s campaign, begun in 2014 to save HAARP from being demolished, when the Air Force decided to discontinue its use of the site

Related Issues: Defense, Veterans