Congress authorizes $577 billion in U.S.
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[December 13, 2014]
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress
approved an annual defense policy bill on Friday that authorizes
American training for Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting Islamic State
rebels and sets overall defense spending at $577 billion, including $64
billion for wars abroad.
The Senate passed the legislation 89-11 and sent it to President
Barack Obama to sign into law. The House of Representatives last
week endorsed the measure, which sets defense policy and authorizes
spending levels for the 2015 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, but
does not actually appropriate funding.
The bill approves a Pentagon base budget of $496 billion, in line
with Obama's request, plus nearly $64 billion for conflicts abroad
including the war in Afghanistan. It also authorizes $17.9 billion
for Energy Department nuclear weapons work.
The measure formally endorses the Pentagon's plan to vet, train and
equip a moderate Syrian opposition military force to fight Islamic
State rebels, defend the Syrian people and promote conditions for a
negotiated end to Syria's civil war.
The U.S. military program to train and assist Iraqi and Kurdish
forces fighting Islamic State militants also was authorized.
The bill takes new steps to control personnel costs, which consume
about half the Pentagon budget, essentially approving a year's worth
of proposed long-term reforms but delaying further action until
hearing in February from a congressionally appointed commission on
The measure increases co-pays on most prescription drugs by $3,
reduces the military housing allowance by 1 percentage point and
remains silent on military pay hikes, thus allowing the Pentagon to
implement a proposed 1 percent raise. In the past, Congress often
approved pay raises above levels recommended by the Pentagon but did
not do so this year.
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The bill rejects a number of Pentagon efforts to retire or curtail
weapons systems the department insists it can no longer afford to
maintain because of budget cuts intended to trim projected defense
spending by nearly $1 trillion over a decade.
The measure bars retirement of the A-10 Warthog close air support
plane, beloved by ground troops because of its ability to fly low
and destroy enemy tanks. The Air Force wants to retire the fleet to
cut costs and retrain maintenance personnel to work on the F-35
Joint Strike Fighter.
It also prohibits inactivation of the aircraft carrier USS George
Washington, a step being studied for budgetary reasons, and
authorizes funding to begin an overhaul and refueling of the ship.
(Editing by Will Dunham)
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