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Defense bill with troop pay raise headed to Obama

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 8, 2016

WASHINGTON – A defense policy bill with the largest troop pay raise in six years will now be sent to President Barack Obama following a Thursday vote in the Senate.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act with the 2.1-percent raise, which could kick in Jan. 1, and measures to add troops and halt an Army drawdown. Last week, the House passed the $619-billion bill, which sets defense policy for 2017.

The White House threatened a veto earlier this year and over its objections Congress moved to add $3.2 billion in military priorities including the pay raise and more troops. But the administration has not issued any new warnings and the NDAA passed by large enough majorities in the House and Senate, meaning lawmakers could likely override any Obama veto.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was an architect of the bill and urged the passage Thursday, but he also warned fellow lawmakers that greater investment is still needed to keep the military prepared.

“We are going to have to spend more money but we are also going to have to spend it more wisely,” McCain said.

He blamed Democrats and Republicans for not removing “mindless” budget caps that have held down defense spending since 2013.

The House originally proposed adding $18 billion worth of additional defense priorities into the NDAA, which could have broken the spending caps agreed to by Congress. But the final compromise bill passed Thursday backed off such a major increase and instead opted for the $3.2-billion bump.

The White House had called the $18 billion increase a budget “gimmick.” Last week, it was still reviewing the sprawling policy bill but said it was encouraged.

“It’s mostly free of the budgetary gimmicks that Republicans have deployed in the past,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said. “These are gimmicks that sort of risk the safety of our servicemembers and undercut stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

The Senate passed the NDAA with a 92-7 vote and the House passed it 375-34. Congress could override any veto with a two-thirds majority in both chambers.

The added $3.2 billion worth of military priorities in the NDAA includes the 2.1-percent pay raise for all servicemembers and troop increases for two of the services.

The bill overrides Obama’s order to set pay raises at 1.6 percent in 2017, which was a slight increase over the president’s decision to keep raises at 1.3 percent this year.

Military pay raises have been kept below 2 percent since 2011 while troops and families have been stressed by deployments, aging equipment and shrinking overall defense spending.

The NDAA also freezes a drawdown in the Army, keeping it at 476,000 soldiers, and boosts Reserve forces by 4,000. The Marine Corps would get another 3,000 troops.

The Army is pushing ahead with a plan to decrease from 492,000 to 450,000 active-duty soldiers.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

The newly-refurbished U.S. Capitol dome.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

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