Obama signs annual defense policy bill into law

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President Obama has signed the annual defense policy bill into law, the White House announced Friday.

But Obama said he was disappointed in a number of aspects of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“Congress again failed to enact meaningful reforms to divest unneeded force structure, reduce wasteful overhead and modernize military healthcare,” he said. “Instead, the Congress redirects funding needed to support the warfighter to fund additional end-strength that our military leaders have not requested at a time when our troops are engaged overseas supporting the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and against al-Qaida.”

But, he said, he signed it because it “authorizes fiscal year 2017 appropriations principally for the Department of Defense and for Department of Energy national security programs, provides vital benefits for military personnel and their families, and includes authorities to facilitate ongoing operations around the globe.”

The bill passed both the House and the Senate with veto-proof majorities earlier this month.

The NDAA authorizes a total of $618.7 billion in spending, including more than $67 billion for a war fund known as the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account.

That’s $3.2 billion more than Obama requested for OCO, which will be used for base budget items such as a 2.1 percent pay raise for troops and increases in the number of troops for Army, Marines and Air Force.

Obama and Democrats have typically opposed using OCO to fund base budget items, blasting it as a gimmick that skirts budget caps for defense spending while leaving them in place for non-defense spending.

But congressional Democratic opposition to this year’s NDAA faded after a number of controversial policy provisions were dropped during House-Senate negotiations, including a provision that Democrats argued would have rolled back an Obama executive order and allowed discrimination against LGBT workers.

Another controversial provision that Democrats backed that was opposed by conservatives — requiring women to register for the draft — was also dropped from the final bill.

The bill leaves in place restrictions on transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States, ensuring that Obama will not be able to fulfill his goal of closing it before he leaves office.

“In February, my administration submitted a comprehensive plan to safely and responsibly close the detention facility,” Obama said. “Rather than answer that call and work with my administration to finally bring this chapter of our history to a close, this bill aims to make the facility a permanent fixture of our struggle against terrorism.”

The bill also includes a fix meant to address the National Guard bonus clawback scandal and elevates Cyber Command to its own combatant command.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it was reassuring that Obama signed the bill and also foreshadowed work to continue to bulk up the military under President-elect Donald Trump.

“After overwhelming votes of bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, it is reassuring to see the President sign this year’s defense bill to further reform and rebuild our military,” he said in a statement Friday. “This is a significant step for our troops, our allies and America’s national security, but there is still much work ahead to repair the damage done to our military over the past several years.” 

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