BY REBECCA KHEEL – 12/02/16 the HILL
The House on Friday easily passed this year’s annual defense policy bill with bipartisan support in a 375-34 vote.
The bill would authorize a total of $618.7 billion in spending, including $59.5 billion for a war fund known as the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account.
Another $8.3 billion from the OCO account — $3.2 billion more than Obama requested — would be used for base budget requirements such as a pay raise for troops and troop increases.
The troop pay raise would be 2.1 percent, above the president’s request for a 1.6 percent pay raise. End strength would also be increased across the services. The Navy would remain at 323,900 troops, but the new caps for the rest would be 476,000 for the Army, 185,000 for the Marines and 321,000 for the Air Force. Though Democrats in the past have blasted using the OCO to raise defense spending as a gimmick that skirts budget caps to avoid raising nondefense spending, most voted on Friday for the bill.
“We put together an excellent product,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on the House floor. “It prioritizes the men and women who serve in the military to try to make we provide for them, give them all the training they need and all the support they need so that when we ask them to something they are trained and ready to do it.”
The White House has not said yet whether Obama will veto the bill over the extra money.
“We haven’t seen the text of it, but we’ll obviously review it,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a briefing Wednesday. “That may take a little time, but once we’ve reached a conclusion about whether or not the president will sign it, we’ll let you know.”
The final version of the bill also jettisoned a slew of controversial policy provisions that had passed in the House or Senate versions, including requiring women to register for the draft.
A provision known as the Russell Amendment that said federal contractors couldn’t be discriminated against based on their religion was also taken out. Democrats argued the provision would have rolled back an Obama executive order and allowed discrimination against LGBT workers.
The bill would also keep the status quo on restrictions on transfers out of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, cap the size of the National Security Council at 200 staffers and reauthorize a program to give visas to Afghans who assisted U.S. troops and diplomats during the Afghanistan War.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.