House Armed Services Committee members have forwarded a $610 billion defense policy bill. According to its supporters, the policy will completely fund the military needs while the others criticized it as just another budgeting gimmick that would create more problems than it would solve.
The annual defense authorization bill draft was approved by the panel with 60 votes in favor and 2 votes against it. There was a 16 hour debate over the issue, with numerous defense priority and regulation amendments. It also included up to 2.1 percent pay raise for troops next year. Note that the troops are currently 27,000 more than the White House requested. It also advances to a massive renewal of the defense medical care system.
In addition, the plan also includes $18 billion to military funding for things such as F-18s, F-35s, Army Tactical Missile Systems and Littoral combat ships. Note that the plan has enormously increased the ship and aircraft depot maintenance, adding 900 Javelin missiles to the Pentagon’s request.
Mac Thornberry, R-Calif, the current Committee Chairman, has iterated that the additions were needed to supply the armed forces with all the assistance they require to keep the country secure.
According to him, “The bottom line for me this year is that it is fundamentally wrong to send service members out on missions for which they are not fully prepared or fully supported.”
In addition, he said, “For that reason, it is essential that we begin to correct the funding shortfalls that have led to a lack of readiness and to a heightened level of risk that we have heard about … and seen for ourselves.”
However, it should be noted here that the Democrats and administration officials have already criticized the motion, stating that the authorization bill and the larger House Republican budget plan already pay for the aforementioned additions.
The total cost of the budget is in accordance with the budget agreed upon by Congress and the White House last winter. But, it does shift $18 billion from the temporary war funds to the base budget. This way, the remaining budget only covers money for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for half of 2017.
According to Thornberry, the next president will hopefully fill in the gaps through a supplemental budget plan next year. Ash Carter, the Defense Secretary, on Wednesday said that the new plan is a gamble with the lives and missions of the troops.
He said before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “It buys force structure without the money to sustain it and keep it ready, effectively creating a hollow force structure, and working against our efforts to restore readiness.”
On the other hand, Adam Smith, House Armed Services Ranking Member, D-Wash, raised the same concerns but eventually accepted the bill, recognizing it as an important move towards improvements in the process.
For 54 consecutive years, the authorization bill has been passed by the Congress. There have been numerous presidential vetoes and threats to stop the bill to no avail to date. Even President Obama has threatened to veto all of the defense authorization bills passed by the House throughout his presidential era.
On the other hand, the 2.1 pay raise suggestion is similar to the jump in private sector wages expected in 2017.
However, it does surpass the White House’s decision of a 1.6 percent pay raise. It should be noted here that the Senate lawmakers have not yet signed to the higher pay raise yet. Even if it stays at 1.6 percent as instructed by the White House, it would still be the highest pay raise for troops since 2013. It would join the six year streak of military pay raise below 2 percent.
Defense Department officials believe that this pay raise will save approximately $300 million in the year 2017. In addition, they also suggest that it would save up to $2.2 billion over the next five years. In addition, they also emphasized on the fact that even though the raise might seem nominal, the troops would still see bigger salary raises from next year on. According to sources, a 1.6 percent increase means approximately $400 per year in salary increase for most of the junior troops and around $1,500 annual pay raise for mid-career officers.
On the other hand, an E-4 with three years of service will almost get a raise of $136. For an E-7 with 10 years of service, the total would be around $228 yearly.
Currently, the authorization bill funds around 9,800 troops in Afghanistan till 2017, even though the plans were long discussed by the White House of drawing down the force by the end of the year.
The plan would add 25,000 more soldiers to the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve than requested. According to Thornberry, this bill would keep force at a steady level instead of drawing it down.
In addition, it should be noted here that the Army’s active-duty force would rise from 475,000 to 480,000 under this plan. But the Pentagon had planned to bring it down to 460,000 to make major cuts. The Marine Corps will see an addition of 1,000 troops under the House plan, whereas under the White House proposal it was recommended to bring it down from 184,000 to 182,000.
Moreover, the plan would add 25,000 new soldiers to the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, again more than the service leadership requested. For the Air Force, the proposal was to cut down the force by almost 4,000 instead it would grow by 285 personnel while the Navy would drop from 329,200 soldiers to 322,900 soldiers till next fall 2017.