WASHINGTON — The US Senate has overwhelmingly passed the $618.7 billion defense policy bill that strips added jets and ships, but boosts military manpower above President Barack Obama's budget.
On Thursday, the Senate voted 92-to-7 to send the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act to the president's desk. Most Democrats backed the legislation even though it cost several billion more than the White House request.
The bill includes a 2.1 percent pay raise for military personnel, set to take effect Jan. 1. That figure is greater than the president's request and, if approved, would mark the first time in five years that military pay has kept pace with project private sector wage growth.
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The NDAA also orders major organizational changes for the Pentagon. Among them, it splits the job of the Pentagon's top weapons buyer, slashes the number of general officers, caps the size of the National Security Council at 200 and extends the term of the Joint Chiefs chairman to four years.
Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution drafted to fund the federal government through April 28, 2017. GOP leadership abandoned regular order for all but one appropriations bills, expecting to give the new administration a chance to put its stamp on federal spending.
Last week, before the House overwhelmingly passed the bill, White House spokesman Josh Earnest would not say whether Obama will follow through on past threats to veto any defense budget measures that work around statutory budget caps on military and non-military spending.
In the past, Democrats have insisted on parity between defense and non-defense spending. However Republican lawmakers inserted an unmatched $3.2 billion in temporary war funding to get around the caps. Nearly all the extra money is for additional personnel costs, including a larger pay raise for troops and boosts to troop numbers in the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.
The NDAA excludes an earlier House version's provision for 14 more F/A-18E/F aircraft for the Navy and 11 more F-35 joint strike fighters across the services, and all but a fraction of the $2 billion plus-up to the Navy's shipbuilding budget.
Instead, the bill aims to roll back the Obama administration's planned drawdown and adds related operations and sustainment funds to support the added manpower. Army end strength jumps to 476,000, from 460,000 in 2017, and the Marine Corps jumps to 185,000 from 182,000 in 2017.
The NDAA directs a reduction of 110 general and flag officers on active duty and requires a study that will identify another 10-percent cut.
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry has said he hopes President-elect Donald Trump quickly asks Congress to pass supplemental defense spending to pay for jets and ships left out of the compromise defense policy bill.
Earlier in the week Vice-President-elect Mike Pence said the new administration will request a defense supplemental within its first 100 days.
Aimed at acquisition reform, the NDAA would split the duties of the Pentagon undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L) between an undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment (AT&S), and create a new undersecretary for research and engineering (R&E) — a chief technology officer.
Implementation is ordered for February 2018, though the Department of Defense isn't precluded from implementing it sooner.
Military Times' Capitol Hill Bureau Chief Leo Shane III contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is the Congress reporter for Defense News.