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- Republicans and Democrats in the House authorized nearly $700 billion for defense programs, including increased pay and benefits for soldiers in an attempt to combat one of the military’s biggest problems: low retention rates.
- The proposed bill is the largest in US history and plans to boost active-duty troop totals by more than 20,000.
- If the Senate passes the measure, Trump would be one step closer towards fulfilling his promise to rebuild the military.
The House passed a nearly $700 billion bipartisan defense bill on Tuesday, boosting the number of jet fighters, ships, and other weapons in an effort to rebuild what critics say is a depleted US military.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018 also calls for an increase of more than 20,000 active-duty and reserve troops, as well as a 2.4% hike in troop pay.
“Over the last several years, we have seen an increase in threats and a decrease in funding for our military,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, said in a statement. “This year’s NDAA begins to rebuild our military and to ensure we can defend the American people.”
Critics have complained that the Pentagon has abandoned the military in recent years. As a result, they say, the military has suffered from a low retention rate, lack of preparedness, and preventable officer misconduct.
“The military readiness crisis has impacted every service from ship collisions, aircraft crashes and vehicle accidents to personnel shortages in critical roles, like aviation and cybersecurity,” Sen. John McCain said during a hearing on Tuesday. “And by the way, the Congress is also complicit in this almost criminal behavior.”
Under the newly proposed defense policy, the Army would see the greatest troop increase, with an added 7,500 active-duty and 1,000 reserve troops.
The Army has said they need more money in order to meet retention goals. Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey told an audience in February that the Army would need more money in order to offer bonuses and other incentives to increase retention.
“We are going to go back and ask for more money,” Dailey said, referring to the then-upcoming NDAA.”That is exactly what we intend to do because we have to.”
House Democrats have also previously pushed for higher military pay, citing private sector opportunities that may pay more. The NDAA’s proposed 2.4% would match wage growth in the private sector.
“Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deserve pay increases that are competitive with opportunities in the private sector and that better reflect the gravity of their sacrifices on behalf of our nation,” Rep. Ruben Gallego said in a statement in June. “We should demonstrate our respect for their service not just in speeches and public gestures, but in their paychecks.”
Congress helps Trump fulfill a campaign promise
The NDAA exceeds President Donald Trump’s initial budget request by at least $26 billion, but the $700 billion total may not come to fruition if Congress doesn’t roll back a 2011 law that set strict limits on federal spending. Those limits would cap defense spending at $549 billion, according to Reuters.
The Senate will vote on the defense bill later this month. If it passes, Trump is expected to sign it into law, assuming Congress is able to resolve spending cap issue.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to rebuild the military, criticizing former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for overseeing military cuts.
“As soon as I take office, I will ask Congress to fully eliminate the defense sequester and will submit a new budget to rebuild our military,” Trump promised during an interview on CNN. “It is so depleted. We will rebuild our military.”