House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to approve an annual defense policy bill that would halt the drawdown on end strength of the U.S. military services, implement reforms at the Department of Defense, and give America's troops a pay raise.
The House passed the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act on Friday in a bipartisan vote of 375-34, moving forward measures aimed at stemming the readiness challenges facing the military services and boosting innovation at a time when emerging adversaries such as Russia and China are investing in their capabilities.
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The House and Senate Armed Services Committees completed negotiations on the legislation this week, releasing a final conference report on Wednesday. The bill supports $619 billion in national defense, in addition to a $5.8 billion supplemental request for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Europe and $3.2 billion to stop the drawdowns that have contributed to readiness challenges across the services.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas) and Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), the chairmen of their respective Armed Services Committees, both cheered the compromise legislation on Wednesday, describing it as pivotal in increasing the strength of the U.S. military at a time when global threats run high.
"I am tremendously proud of this NDAA, which provides our troops with the largest pay raise since 2010, begins to reverse the dangerous drawdown of the Army and Marine Corps, boosts investments in rebuilding readiness, firmly establishes innovation as a primary mission of the Department of Defense, and delivers bold reforms on defense acquisition, military healthcare, military justice, and security cooperation," McCain said in a statement Wednesday. "Thanks to these provisions and many more, the NDAA will enable our troops to rise to the challenges of a more dangerous world."
It was unclear as of Thursday whether President Obama intends to sign the bill if it reaches his desk. "We haven't seen the text of it, but you know, we'll obviously review it. That may take a little time, but once we've reached a conclusion about whether or not the president will sign it, we'll let you know," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday.
The White House previously threatened to veto both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2017 NDAA when they were released earlier this year.
The bill provides a 2.1 percent pay raise for U.S. troops, as required by law. It also stops the drawdown and increases the end strength of active U.S. forces, providing for 476,000 soldiers in the Army, 323,900 sailors in the Navy, 321,000 airmen in the Air Force, and 185,000 Marines in the Marine Corps.
The bill also provides relief for members of the California National Guard who were inappropriately issued bonuses and asked by the Pentagon to repay them, shifting responsibility to the Defense Department to reach out to each soldier and notify credit reporting agencies when the debts have been forgiven.
Additionally, the bill increases ground and aviation training, provides for more operation and maintenance to support a larger force, and provides advanced funding for submarines and amphibious ships to aid ship procurement.
The legislation also includes several reform measures targeting the Defense Department and caps the White House's National Security Council staff at 200 people. It also elevates the U.S. Cyber Command to a unified command to strengthen cyber security, improves military health care, and advances acquisition reform.
Like previous bills, the 2017 NDAA also prohibits the closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, and the transfer of prisoners to the United States. Obama has accelerated his efforts to transfer Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries this year, though he is unlikely to fulfill his goal of closing the prison in the final weeks of his term. President-elect Donald Trump has said he will keep Guantanamo open.
The bill does not, however, include a provision requiring women to register for the military draft, which was the source of controversy earlier this year when the Senate version of the defense bill included such a provision but the House version did not. Instead, the compromise bill includes a provision requiring the Government Accountability Office to study the Selective Service and its usefulness in the future.
The Obama administration came out in support of requiring women to register for the military draft on Thursday.
The bill will now advance to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.
Lawmakers still have yet to fund the military because the appropriations bill has been stalled. Lawmakers have instead pursued a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government through April, drawing ire from McCain and Defense Secretary Ash Carter who said it will compromise national defense.