Navy gets boost in Obama’s proposed budget

By Dianna Cahn
The Virginian-Pilot


An increase of more than $11 billion for the Navy in a 2016 budget plan rolled out by the White House Monday bodes well for Hampton Roads.

But the spending proposal could be short-lived.

President Barack Obama’s budget request, which includes $161 billion for the Navy, keeps intact funding for new ships and carriers, adds extra sailors to the fleet and allocates money to maintain and modernize ships, submarines, aircraft and weaponry.

It includes money for the midlife overhaul of the aircraft carrier George Washington, which the Navy was unsure it could afford last year, and allocates $50.4 billion for operations and maintenance, ensuring work for southeast Virginia’s shipyards.

But the proposed defense budget of $534 billion exceeds spending caps put in place to reduce the deficit under the 2011 Budget Control Act. Unless Congress and Obama can reach an agreement on how to pay for the extra $35 billion in expenses or remove the caps, automatic cuts known as sequestration will hit again Oct. 1 when fiscal year 2016 begins.

“If the budget, as submitted by the president, is ultimately approved by Congress, it will have a positive effect on Hampton Roads,” said Craig Quigley, executive director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance.

“The key to success is replacing sequestration to allow budget relief for the Defense Department,” Quigley said. “There must be a path identified to replace sequestration or the really positive and hopeful things you see in today’s budget submission just won’t come to pass.”

Defense officials said Monday that the proposed budget is what’s required to sustain the U.S. military’s global strategy.

“This budget is what the nation needs,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work told reporters at the Pentagon.

He noted that even as the United States ends more than a decade of combat in Afghanistan, world events like Russia’s conflict with

Ukraine, the war in Syria, the fight against the Islamic State group and the Ebola crisis all have drawn U.S. military involvement. Those efforts, coupled with the initial impacts of sequestration in 2013, have left the services operating close to the bone, officials said.

“Like it or not, America remains the global security responder of choice,” he said.

The Navy budget request is up nearly 8 percent from the $149.7 billion budget approved last year and provides much of what the service asked for.

Here are some highlights:

– $14.3 billion for nine new ships, including a Virginia-class submarine built at Newport News Shipbuilding.

– $1.4 billion for development of the next-generation Ohio-class subs.

– $2.5 billion for aircraft carrier maintenance and construction at Newport News, including $1.6 billion for part of the construction of a second Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy, and $875 million for advance procurement for the third Ford carrier.

– $678 million for overhaul of the George Washington at Newport News.

The spending plan also includes $265 million in brick-and-mortar construction projects in Hampton Roads – about 60 percent of the $432 million in projects earmarked for Virginia. Among the local projects are $126 million for a communications center, a helicopter training center and upgrades to four piers at Norfolk Naval Station; $45 million for waterfront utilities at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth; and $41.5 million for a maritime surveillance system facility and a reserve training center at Dam Neck Annex to Oceana Naval Air Station.

The Navy’s ranks would increase to 329,200 – about 5,600 more sailors than the current budget. At the same time, the Navy’s civilian workforce would increase from 176,622 this year to a proposed 179,606 in 2016.

Military pay would increase 1.3 percent in 2016 – larger than this year’s 1 percent pay hike but less than was hoped for. The budget calls for incremental raises over the next few years, with 1.5 percent wage hikes in 2017 and 2018 and 1.8 percent in 2019.

The spending plan slows the growth of the military housing allowance over the next few years until service members eventually are paying 5 percent out of pocket for off-base housing. The allowance varies by region and rank.

The Pentagon hopes to cut its subsidy for military commissary expenses by reducing operating hours. Most would remain open at least five days a week, the budget states.

All service members would have free medical care, but some changes over several years are being proposed for Tricare programs for retirees and families of service members.

For example, the prescription co-payments would increase. The $8 co-pay for a generic prescription would rise to $9 in 2019 and to $14 by 2020.

The Pentagon is proposing to combine Tricare options – Prime, Standard and Extra – into one plan. The consolidated approach would mean a military family with three civilians could pay an extra $22 a year by 2017 for medical care, the Pentagon estimates.

A family that pays about $166 for medical care or 1.2 percent of the total cost, would pay $188 or 1.4 percent, according to the budget plan.

The defense budget was part of a $4 trillion budget, released Monday, that includes a 6.4 percent increase in government spending and calls for some tax increases.

However, Obama’s plan confronts a new balance of power in Washington, with Republicans running both the House and Senate. The GOP found plenty to criticize in his proposed tax hikes that would total about $1.5 trillion.

Republicans cited the nation’s $18 trillion debt and assailed what they call Obama’s tax-and-spend policies for failing to address the spiraling growth of benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

“Today President Obama laid out a plan for more taxes, more spending, and more of the Washington gridlock that has failed middle class families,” said House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. “This plan never balances – ever.”

Some members of Hampton Roads’ congressional delegation welcomed the defense budget proposal, saying nothing should impede the military’s ability to defend the nation.

“While this year’s budget proposal does not undermine essential elements of U.S. military power, like our 11 aircraft carrier fleet or our robust amphibious capability as it has in years past, there remains far more to do in restoring our national defense after years of reckless cuts,” U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes said in a statement.

Pilot writer Bill Bartel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Back to Top