• December 9, 2016

Defense Act removes controversial issues in 2017

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Posted: Thursday, December 1, 2016 9:58 pm

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Friday on the final draft of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017, a compromise completed in late November between the House and the Senate.

Some of the key provisions:

Defense funding would increase to $618.7 billion, up from last year’s $607 billion.

Troop numbers would increase in the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force.

Military medical insurance enrollment fees would not increase.

Housing allowances would remain the same.

Women would not be required to register for Selective Service.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the spending bill next week. The bill includes additional money for U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State.

Of the total, $523.7 billion is for the base defense budget. It includes $67.8 billion for the war-related Overseas Contingency Operations account, of which $8.3 billion is designated to fund base budget programs. Another $3.2 billion in war funding on top of the administration’s budget request would address shortfalls in military readiness.

Title IV, Subtitle A, of the bill would authorize an end strength for the Army of 476,000, an addition of 1,000 extra soldiers. The Navy would remain at 323,900 sailors, but the Marine Corps would add 3,000 troops to reach 185,000, and the Air Force would add 4,000 airmen for an end strength of 321,000.

The conference report eliminates provisions such as adding 14 F-18 Super Hornet aircraft and additional F-35 joint strike fighters.

Women would not need to register for Selective Service — commonly referred to as the draft. The Government Accountability Office would be tasked with studying the Selective Service system to see whether it will remain viable in the future.

Late Thursday, the White House declared its support for requiring women to register with Selective Service.

President Barack Obama has been considering the position since last December, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the military to open all jobs to women, including the most arduous combat posts. Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said Obama believes women have “proven their mettle,” including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, who represents part of the Fort Hood area, said women should not be forced to register for the draft.

“Williams has always maintained that he is incredibly grateful for the brave men and women serving our country, but he doesn’t believe the federal government should force women to register for the draft,” said Vince Zito, a spokesman for the congressman.

“The bill also allows for the largest increase in military pay in recent years, increases troop strength and readiness, keeps GTMO (Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba) open, and ensures no illegal immigrant minors will be housed on military installations,” said U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock. “It makes no changes to the health care of our veterans or any of our current soldiers.”

Previously, the bill proposed an increase in the cost of medical insurance for military retirees and their families. The current enrollment fees for Tricare Prime for retirees and family members younger than 65 are $277.92 annually for an individual or $555.84 for a family.

Without the compromise, single retirees would pay $350 and families would pay $700 annually for enrollment fees.

“As Congressman Williams says, the federal government must uphold its end of the deal to our servicemen and servicewomen,” Zito said. “However, in order to maintain future sustainability, the increase will apply to future members who join the military after 2018.”

Basic allowance for housing would remain the same under the compromise. In the original draft, active-duty service members would have received only the actual rent amount.

Zito said Williams believes the housing allowance is a crucial benefit to service members and their families.

The compromise would leave the current housing allowance system in place, with predetermined amounts paid based on rank and location. Dual-service military families would continue with one service member receiving the full housing allowance and the other a reduced-rate allowance.

“Of utmost importance to me is the authorization to increase military end strength, with the largest increase in the Army, stopping the Obama administration’s massive military cuts,” Carter said. “At a time when we are facing growing global threats to our national security, we must stand on the side of our brave military men and women and stand up for our great nation’s security.”

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

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