Congress passes defense authorization bill
WASHINGTON — Just hours before the start of the new fiscal year Congress put the finishing touches on its 2007 defense budget plans, specifying money for new electronic jamming devices and mandating all military vehicles in combat zones be equipped with the anti-bomb devices.
House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on the nearly $533 billion defense authorization bill Friday afternoon, and both chambers approved the measure in a late-night voting session to send the legislation to the president.
The legislation, along with the 2007 defense appropriations bill, sets next year’s military spending. The $448 billion appropriations bill, which sets the baseline for defense funds in fiscal 2007, was signed into law by the president late Friday night.
The authorization bill outlines the priorities and limits on spending for the next fiscal year, which begins on Monday. It also dictates a number of policy changes, such as the new jammer requirement and rules limiting the interest rates that can be charged to serviemembers seeking payday loans.
Both bills provide $70 billion for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in an effort to avoid the need for midyear supplemental budget requests to keep military operations there fully funded.
The budget plans also both supported only a 2.2 percent raise in military salaries next year, despite earlier discussions by lawmakers about offering a 2.7 percent pay raise. Congressional officials said the lower pay raise will save the department more than $500 million.
About $24 billion was set aside for Army and Marine equipment reset, to repair and replace vehicles, weapons and other items worn down by several years of heavy use in harsh weather conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another nearly $110 million was set aside specifically for both the development of new radio jamming devices to combat remote-detonated explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan and the purchase of existing jamming countermeasures. About $100 million more was assigned to a “Take back the roads” initiative to put surveillance aircraft over major roadways in Iraq with the worst improvised explosive device problems.
President Bush was expected to sign the authorization bill into law late Saturday.
2007 Defense Authorization Act highlights
Provides $69 million for anti-explosive jammers, which can be carried by dismounted patrols, and $41 million more for new disruption devices for vehicles.
Provides $100 million for surveillance aircraft to patrol roads where improvised explosive device (IED) activity has been the greatest.
Mandates that all vehicles on roads off base in Iraq and Afghanistan be equipped with electronic jamming devices.
Mandates Tricare coverage for forensic examinations following sexual assaults and domestic violence.
Expands current post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) studies to include a closer examination of the experiences of guardsmen and reservists, and funds pilot programs researching early diagnosis of PTSD.
Increases the maximum bonus for reserve health care professionals in critical specialties from $10,000 to $25,000.
Increases the 2007 active-duty Army end strength by 30,000 to 512,400, and increase the Marines end strength by 5,000 to 180,000.
Increases the 2007 Army National Guard end strength by more than 17,000 to 350,000.
Increases the maximum bonus for “Blue to Green” transfers from $2,500 to $10,000.
Funds $400,000 in Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) premiums coverage for servicemembers in combat zones, up from the current automatic $150,000 coverage.
Other policy items
Requires the remains of troops killed in combat be transported by military aircraft, and requires that an honor guard meet the casket at the destination airfield.
Reduces the carrier fleet from 12 to 11, and retires the USS John F. Kennedy.
Repeals recent changes by the Air Force and Navy mandating nondenominational prayer from military chaplains.
— Leo Shane III