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WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators on Thursday finalized plans for a $507 billion fiscal 2008 Defense authorization bill, the last remaining piece in next year’s defense budget.

Congress is expected to pass the measure next week and put the bill before the president by the end of the month. The measure does not contain up to $50 billion in supplemental war funding under consideration in Congress but does feature a host of spending and policy priorities for next year.

In a news conference Friday, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., called the compromise a major advance for troops’ health care and assistance for their families.

Along with reauthorizing numerous specialty pays and recruitment bonuses, the measure confirms a 3.5 percent pay raise for all military personnel and more flexibility with leave time.

The legislation also includes major portions of the Wounded Warrior Act — passed by the Senate earlier this year — to repair and refocus the military health care system in the wake of scandals at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington earlier this year.

While not enacted into law yet, several of the provisions — a new center of excellence on brain injuries, new pilot programs for disability ratings, better communication between medical staff and wounded troops’ families — are already under way within the Defense Department.

Others require semi-annual inspections of housing facilities for recovering troops, development of better electronic medical records for defense and veterans care, and expansion of stress disorder research.

“These groundbreaking provisions will make sure our men and women are getting the best care,” Levin said.

In a statement, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., praised the compromise as “a good bill that supports our troops, restores military readiness, and improves accountability to the American people.”

The House is expected to vote on the measure early next week, although that could be delayed as both chambers negotiate how to settle the ongoing war funding disagreement.

Democrats have pushed for a short-term bridge fund to continue operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but with timetables for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq included in the legislation.

President Bush has promised to veto that proposal, and defense officials have warned that without the money soon they will begin layoffs and cutbacks within the services.

Levin said he was disappointed by reports from House and Senate leadership that they may attach the funding to other budget bills without the withdrawal language, but said all lawmakers are working to find a solution that does not jeopardize U.S. troops.

“The only question is how and when we’ll get it done,” he said. “We’d like to get some language in there to set some goals for the reduction of forces in Iraq, but I don’t know whether that’s possible.”

2008 Defense Spending

House and Senate negotiators have agreed on the 2008 Defense authorization bill, one of two budget measures that sets spending and policy decisions for the military each year. The legislation is expected to pass next week, and reach the president’s desk before the end of the year. Highlights include:

Active-duty• Echoes Congress 3.5 percent pay raise for all military personnel, but drops provisions for higher raises through 2012.• Authorizes DOD to increase monthly hardship duty pay up to $1,500.• Reauthorizes 25 enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses, as well as 60 specialty pays.• Allows certain deployed troops to sell back up to 30 days of unused leave.• Allows troops to carry up to 75 days of leave from one fiscal year to the next.

Reserve• Makes the chief of the National Guard Bureau a four-star general.• Allows reservists below 60 to draw retirement pay early, by three months for every 90 days of total service on active duty.• Allows reservists to use their educational benefits for up to 10 years after separation.• Allows reservists with three cumulative years of active-duty service to qualify for education benefits at 80 percent of the active-duty rate.

Civilians• Increases the death gratuity for federal civilians from $12,000 to $100,000.• Establishes a Family Readiness Council and better coordinate family programs.• Allows foreign-born spouses and children of troops to count their time accompanying tours overseas toward their citizenship requirements.

Contractors• Requires regulation for armed contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, mandating they comply with DOD force rules and regulations.• Decreases private security presence at military installations from 80 percent of the total number of guards to 50 percent by 2012.

Health• Mandates research on whether 15-month deployments have had an adverse impact on troops mental health.• Guarantee combat veterans mental health evaluations within 30 days of their request.• Creates a new $2,000 bonus for all troops who refer any military recruits who are later commissioned in a health profession.

General• $4.8 billion for the Joint IED Defeat Organization.• $70 million for force protection research, including vehicle and body armor materials and rocket-propelled grenades protection systems.• Requires a quadrennial “roles and missions” review for the services.• Raises the reward for the capture or death of Osama bin Laden to $50 million.


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