Last night, Congressman Joe Baca (D-Rialto) backed a comprehensive plan to protect our troops in harm's way, restore military readiness, and provide America's servicemen and women with a much-needed pay raise. H.R. 5658, the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, was passed by a vote of 384-23. President Bush has threatened to veto this legislation and opposes Democrats' effort to provide troops with a 3.9 percent pay raise.
"We all know that America's troops are the finest in the world. I am proud to support a plan that gives these courageous men and women a much deserved pay raise, and provides them with the equipment they need," said Rep. Baca. "This Defense Authorization bill honors the service of our troops while working to end our readiness crisis and strengthen our military. I hope the President will drop his misguided opposition, and help to pass this critical bill."
The legislation passed last night provides all service members a pay raise of 3.9 percent -- 0.5 percent more than the President's budget request, and extends the authority for the Defense Department to offer bonuses and incentive pay. The bill also aids servicemen and women and their families by rejecting the President's plan to increase premiums and co-pays for the military and retirees who are enrolled in the TRICARE system. All told, this provision will save troops, their families and military retirees $1.2 billion.
The bill also takes critical steps to end the military's readiness crisis. Under President Bush, Army readiness has dropped to unprecedented levels, and Army National Guard units have, on average, only 63 percent of their required equipment. Additionally, many stateside units are not fully equipped and would not be considered ready if called upon to respond during an emergency.
The measure helps restore our nation's military readiness by funding the Army's and Marine Corps' equipment reset requirements, authorizing nearly $2 billion for unfunded readiness initiatives including addressing additional equipment shortfalls, and authorizing $800 million to provide the National Guard and Reserve critically needed equipment. The bill also protects troops in harm's way by authorizing $2.6 billion for additional Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, $947 million for additional Up-Armored Humvees, and $783 million for the continued procurement and enhancement of personal body armor.
"The Bush Administration was in such a hurry to invade Iraq that they sent our troops in harms way without the proper equipment, and without any endgame strategy. Because of this recklessness America's military readiness has slipped to dangerously low levels," said Rep. Baca. "With this legislation, we have passed a plan that will help address the readiness crisis and ensure our military has the resources it needs to protect our nation and take care of our troops."
Rep. Baca is a veteran who served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper with both the 101st and the 82nd Airborne Divisions from 1966-68.