US Congress passes US$584 billion defense bill


The legislation passed 89 votes to 11 in the Senate one week after it sailed through the House. It outlines US$584.2 billion in federal military spending for fiscal year 2015, which began on October 1. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was a culmination of months of negotiations. It extends training and equipping for moderate Syrian rebels, a program that had been authorized to last only until December 11, using existing Pentagon money. It also includes Obama’s US$5 billion request for funds to battle the Islamic State extremist group, including US$3.4 billion for deployment of US forces as part of operation “Inherent Resolve,” and $1.6 billion for a program to equip and train Iraqi Kurdish forces for two years. The authorization includes US$63.7 billion for overseas operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

“This bill includes a pay raise for members of the Armed Services, it enhances our efforts to keep our warfighters safe on the battlefield, and it authorizes the resources needed to responsibly conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement. Obama’s request for US$520 million for the State Department’s humanitarian and diplomatic efforts was also included. But despite opposition from Obama, the bill extends restrictions on closing the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A ban on transferring detainees to the United States, in force since 2011, was renewed. Republicans fear the detainees might be freed by a judge and thus constitute a threat to national security.

Thirteen prisoners have been sent to other countries this year, and 142 men remain in the prison. Among the bill’s hundreds of provisions, the measure provides for a one percent pay raise for uniformed personnel, expands sexual assault prevention and response provisions, and requires the military to provide annual mental health screenings for servicemembers.

It also protects the fleet of A-10 close-air support aircraft, a measure for which Senator John McCain lobbied hard.

The US Air Force had proposed retiring more than 100 A-10s, but the NDAA would prevent any such retirements in 2015. Defense spending accounts for just over half of the US government’s budget for so-called discretionary spending, which excludes social welfare.