Obama signs massive defense spending bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a massive U.S. defense policy bill that endorses his plan to fight Islamic State militants, including air strikes and training Iraqis and moderate Syrian rebels.
The law authorizes funds for basic military operations, from a 1 percent pay raise for troops to the purchase of ships, aircraft and other war-fighting equipment.
It also authorizes the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels battling the extremists for two years and provides $5 billion to train Iraqis battling the militants who brutally rule large sections of the two countries.
The measure provides the core funding of $521.3 billion for the military and $63.7 billion for overseas operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite Obama’s objections, it maintains a ban on transferring terror suspects from the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba to the United States for prosecution or imprisonment.
Obama issued a separate statement criticizing the ban on Guantanamo transfers in the defense bill and the government funding bill he signed earlier this week. Obama declared at the outset of his presidency that he wanted to close the detention center, but Congress has thwarted his efforts.
“I have consistently opposed these restrictions and will continue to work with the Congress to remove them,” Obama said. “The Guantanamo detention facility’s continued operation undermines our national security. We must close it.”
The Republican leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, highlighted the ban on Guantanamo transfers. He said bringing terror suspects to the U.S. “would be both dangerous and deeply unpopular” with Americans.
“House Republicans will continue to do all we can to protect our national security and support our men and women in uniform, and look forward to working with the president to do the same,” he said.
The Pentagon sought cuts in military benefits. Lawmakers compromised in the bill by agreeing to make service members pay $3 more for co-pays on prescription drugs and trimming the growth of the off-base housing allowance by 1 percent instead of the Pentagon’s deeper 5 percent recommendation.
The law also prohibits retirement of the A-10 Warthog, the close-air support plane often described as ugly but invaluable.
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