House panel unveils $611B defense policy bill

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) unveiled a 2016 defense policy bill on Monday that equals the Obama administration’s request, but rejects many of its proposals. 

The bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), authorizes $515 billion in spending for national defense and an additional $89.2 billion for war funding, for a total of $604.2 billion. 

{mosads}The base defense spending, the war funding and $7.7 billion for the State Department would be equivalent to the president’s total request of $611.9 billion in defense discretionary spending. 

However, the committee’s proposal differs in that the president’s request called for overturning defense budget caps under sequestration, allowing for more in the base budget and less in the war-funding account.

This year, lawmakers on the Budget committees opted to adhere to sequestration but add money to the war funding account, which is also known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account. 

Of the total $89.2 billion in war funding, $38.3 billion would go toward activities normally supported in the Pentagon’s base budget. The president has threatened to veto a bill that does not include the overturning of sequestration, but it is not clear whether he will do so, because the totals equate to his request. 

The panel’s bill rejected the Pentagon’s proposal to retire the A-10 attack jet aircraft. Instead, the bill provides $682.7 million for the aircraft and modified a provision in last year’s bill to allow not more than 18 A-10s to be placed into “backup flying status” — down from 36 A-10s allowed in 2015. 

The bill also rejected the Pentagon’s proposal to authorize a new round of base closures under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) process. It also provides a 2.3 percent pay raise for troops, over the Pentagon’s proposed 1 percent pay raise. 

The bill would also reform the military’s retirement system to go from only benefitting troops who serve at least 20 years to benefitting those who serve at least two, beginning in 2017. It includes steps to reform the Pentagon’s unwieldy acquisition system as well. 

“This year’s NDAA will begin a process of much needed reform to the Department of Defense,” Thornberry said in a statement. “These reforms are designed to recruit and retain America’s best and brightest, ensure that our forces maintain their technological edge, and to balance resources from the ‘tail’ to the ‘tooth’ of the force.”

“Our country has never before faced the spectrum of varied and serious threats to our security that we face today. Beginning to make these reforms, and seeing the reform process through in the future, is vital if we are to overcome these challenges,” he said. 

The bill also adds provisions aimed at restricting detainee releases from the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, including adding reporting requirements on former detainees and prohibiting funds for transferring or releasing detainees at the detention facility, or for constructing or modifying facilities in the U.S. for housing detainees. 

Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the bill released “contains some good provisions,” but criticized others he said were driven by political and “parochial” interests.

“For example, the majority is attempting to further its perilous policy of allowing the excessively expensive detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to persist,” he said in a statement. “This is a political position driving bad policy.”

On BRAC, he said prohibiting a new round would force the Pentagon to maintain and operate costly facilities that it does not need or what. He also blasted a provision that delays the Navy’s modernization of cruisers: “Not only is this costly, it also has a real negative effect on our sailors and their families.”

“To be clear, there are positive provisions in this bill, but we have got to make some changes if we are going to get a bill that the president will sign,” Smith said.  

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