Annual defense bill touches on ISIS war, Guantánamo

Annual defense bill touches on ISIS war, Guantánamo
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The House Armed Services Committee’s annual defense policy bill aims to make a slew of reforms to the Pentagon in areas such as command structure and healthcare.

It also seeks assurances from the administration on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and effectively prevents the president from shutting down the Guantánamo Bay prison.

Committee staffers laid out the provisions of the $610 billion bill Friday at a background briefing for reporters.

The bill includes the same restriction as last year against transferring Guantánamo detainees to the United States, a staffer said.

If passed, the bill would keep the restriction in place until President Obama leaves office, preventing him from fulfilling his campaign promise to shutter the facility.

The bill would also provide $680 million for Iraqi training and equip programs. That’s $50 million more than the administration requested. The extra money is meant specifically for Kurdish, Sunni and other tribal forces’ stipends and sustainment, the staffer said.

Of the $630 million requested by the administration, 25 percent would be held off until the administration offers a plan on how to retake and hold the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS.

The committee wants to know more about the “U.S. forces that are required to make that successful,” the staffer said.

The bill also touches on the selective service, also known as the draft.

Congress has been debating what to do about the draft now that all combat jobs are open to women, with some saying women should have to register, others saying they shouldn’t and still others saying the draft should be abolished altogether.

The bill would require a report on the selective service, including how it would work in a time of mobilization and what alternative could be used. The bill doesn’t express a preference on whether women should be included, the staffer said.

The bill also includes many of the same reforms to the Goldwater-Nichols Act that Defense Secretary Ash Carter outlined earlier this month. Goldwater-Nichols was a landmark law passed in 1986 that set the command structure still used today.

The bill lines up with Carter’s proposal on putting into writing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s role in overseeing all services and combatant commands. It wuld allow the chairman to make recommendations to the president and Defense secretary, put three-star generals in charge of combatant commands instead of four-star generals and shorten the amount of time required to spend in a joint role to advance in careers from three to two years.

The bill would also increase the tenure of the Joint Chiefs chairman from two to four years.

“It would be staggered from the presidential election cycle so that there is greater continuity and stability in military leadership as we go through political transitions,” a second committee staffer said.

It would also make Cyber Command, which is now subordinate to Strategic Command, its own unified command, and also require a study to look at giving Cyber Command, which is now led by the director of the National Security Agency, its own commander.

The committee chairman, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Five ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble Cheney slated to introduce bill to place sanctions on Turkey MORE (R-Texas), also plans to bring an amendment forward to rein in the National Security Council, which critics say has become too large and powerful under Obama. The bill would set a cap on the council’s staff size. Committee staffers said the exact cap is still being worked out.

If the council goes over the cap, the council would be considered a department and the national security advisory would need to be confirmed by Congress.

“The chairman’s preference is for the National Security Council to remain an advisory function for the president,” the first staffer said. “But if it is not going to be, if it is going to become more operational, then it should be subjected to congressional oversight.”

Healthcare reform would include creating new enrollment fees a few years down the line, a third staffer said.

Those who served in the military prior to Jan. 1, 2018, and are retired would pay an annual enrollment fee of $100 for an individual or $200 for a family for the PPO health plan.

But the enrollment fee would only go into effect if the Pentagon increases access to care and customer satisfaction.

“What beneficiaries have told us is, ‘We’re willing to pay, but we’re not willing to pay for what we’re getting now because we have problems with what we’re getting now,” the third staffer said.

Those who join after Jan. 1, 2018, would pay an annual fee of $180 for an individual or $360 for a family for the managed care plan. For the PPO, the fee would $300 for an individual or $600 for a family.

When those who joined after January 2018 eventually retire, they would pay $325 for an individual or $650 for a family for the managed care plan, or $425 for an individual or $850 for a family for the PPO.