Whittled-down defense authorization bill sent to Obama for signature

The House on Wednesday sent a whittled-down 2011 defense authorization bill to President Obama for his signature, handing Democrats another significant accomplishment in the waning days of the lame-duck session.

After the House initially passed the stripped-down defense authorization bill last week, the Senate scrapped another controversial provision related to reparations for World War II victims in Guam. The House approved the Senate's revised bill by unanimous consent on Wednesday.

Senators removed a provision authorizing payments to residents of Guam who suffered or lost relatives under Japanese military occupation in World War II. Language repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military, which had kept the bill stalled in the upper chamber because of GOP opposition, was also stripped.

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The bill does include a ban on the transfer of military detainees from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — a blow to the Obama administration, which has yet to make good on a promise to shutter the facility.

Senate Democrats and Republicans passed the bill by unanimous consent after negotiating late into the night Tuesday. If the measure had failed, it would have been the first time in 48 years Congress did not pass a defense authorization.
 
“This is the bill slightly reduced to eliminate some of the controversial provisions, which would have prevented us from getting to this point,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinRemembering leaders who put country above party Strange bedfellows oppose the filibuster Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home MORE (D-Mich.) said.
 
He noted that 90 percent to 95 percent of the bill remains from what “we worked so hard on in committee on a bipartisan basis.”
 
“This bill will improve the quality of life of our men and women in uniform and give them the tools that they need to remain the most effective fighting force in the world. It will improve the acquisition and management of the Department of Defense and address important issues of cyber security and energy security,” Levin said in a statement.
 
The legislation includes funding for a 1.4 percent across-the-board pay raise for service members; authorizes healthcare coverage for the children of military personnel up to the age of 26; and provides $11.6 billion to train and equip the Afghan National Army and police forces.
 
It also supplies $9.8 billion for the U.S. Special Operations Command and funding for programs to reintegrate low-level insurgent fighters in Afghan society.
 
In addition, the bill extends the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund to bolster the Pakistan army in its war against radical insurgents, and provides funding to reimburse Pakistan and other nations that cooperate in U.S. operations.
 
The leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services panels salvaged the bill last week by striking a bipartisan agreement that removed a slew of controversial provisions. Levin said the Democratic and Republican negotiators, however, “missed” the Guam language passed by the House. 
 
Lawmakers secured passage of the annual authorization bill by smoothing a disagreement over the closure of the military prison at Guantánamo.
 
Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the current ranking member, had to strike a last-minute deal to extend by another year the blanket ban on the transfer of military detainees from Guantánamo.
 
The deal was fashioned to get Republican support in the House and Senate. Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven Kirk10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP senator says he doesn't remember signing 2016 letter urging 'reform' of Ukraine prosecutor's office The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (R-Ill.) had threatened to block the bill because he considered it too weak.
 
The compromise prohibits the use of defense funds to transfer detainees from Guantánamo to the United States or to construct facilities within U.S. borders to house detainees. It also prohibits the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to countries where former detainees were transferred and later returned to terrorist activities.
 
The bill will be named after Skelton as a tribute to his many years on the committee and his work on behalf of the military. He lost his reelection bid in November.
 
Levin and Skelton, working with McKeon and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCummings to lie in state at the Capitol Elizabeth Warren should concern Donald Trump 'bigly' Lawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show MORE (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services panel, agreed to jettison a list of controversial items.
 
In the compromise bill, lawmakers ditched a specific authorization for a second F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine, which had provoked a veto threat from the White House. The bill also does not include a provision allowing abortions to be performed in military hospitals.
 
“Because of the unique circumstances in which the bill is being considered and the importance of the legislation to our men and women serving in uniform at a time of war, we have agreed to drop many controversial provisions that were included in the House and Senate versions of the bill,” Levin said last week.
 
Levin touted the bill for giving military personnel and their families “the pay and benefits they deserve” and for ensuring “they have the training and equipment they need to conduct military operations around the world.”
 
The Senate twice failed to begin debate on the defense authorization because Republicans opposed a provision to repeal the military's “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
 
The defense bill gained new life after Democratic leaders pulled out the provision to repeal DADT and move it as a stand-alone measure, which the Senate passed Saturday. Eight Senate Republicans voted to repeal the Clinton-era policy that Obama promised to end during the 2008 campaign.

Obama signed the "Don't ask" repeal into law Wednesday morning at the White House.


—This story was updated at 12:26 p.m.