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Obama signs defense bill that authorizes pay raise, more troops

December 23, 2016 (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
President Obama signed the annual defense authorization act into law on Friday, finalizing a 2.1 percent pay raise for troops next year and a overhaul of military medical care in years to come.

The annual budget legislation includes defense spending priorities and guidelines for fiscal 2017, but does not allot money for those items. That comes with the annual appropriations bill, which Congress does not expect to finalize until this spring, nearly halfway through the fiscal year.

But short-term budget extensions passed by Congress in early December will cover most of the gaps in military spending until then. Lawmakers approved the 2.1 percent pay raise as part of that deal, giving troops their largest pay raise since 2010.

The pay boost, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will mean about $550 more a year for most junior enlisted troops and around $1,800 annually for mid-career officers.

Congress also included plans to significantly boost the number of service members in the military. Under the authorization bill, Army end strength is set at 476,000 soldiers, about 16,000 more than the White House had requested for fiscal 2017.

The Marine Corps will rise to 185,000 troops, an increase of about 3,000 over requested levels. The Air Force will go to 321,000 airmen, around 4,000 more than Obama wanted. The Navy would remain at 324,000 sailors.

The $619 billion bill is about $3.2 billion more than Obama's request, a complaint that prompted veto threats from the White House in recent months.

But the measure passed both the House and Senate with veto-proof margins and significant Democratic support. Obama threatened to veto all eight of the defense authorization bills sent to him during his two terms, but followed through only one time.  

In a statement, Obama said he was "disappointed" in the final measure, noting that "Congress again failed to enact meaningful reforms to divest unneeded force structure, reduce wasteful overhead, and modernize military healthcare. 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."

Still, the president said he signed the measure because "this act 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 authorization bill includes a restructuring of Tricare, with new fees and costs for troops who enter the service in 2018. It also extends care hours at military clinics across the country, consolidates management for those facilities and expands partnerships with private-care physicians.

Lawmakers also used the policy bill to enact a number of acquisition reform plans but rejected proposals to overhaul how housing stipends are calculated. The legislation also includes a prohibition on base closing efforts favored by the Pentagon and language restricting the closing of detention facilities at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.



Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.
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