U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon), the Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, voted in support of the final annual defense policy bill that authorizes spending for military personnel, weapons systems, national security programs, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed with bipartisan support, also includes funding for Sheppard Air Force Base, the Pantex Plant, and the V-22/MV-22 Osprey program at Bell-Helicopter's Military Aircraft Assembly Center in Amarillo.
The overall amount authorized in the Fiscal Year 2012 bill is $19 billion less than Congress authorized for 2011. The bill authorizes $554 billion for the base Armed Services budget and $115.5 billion for overseas contingency operations, which generally refers to funding for efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The NDAA will also fund the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) at $11.1 billion.
"We were able to reduce funding levels in this defense bill while also maintaining our country's commitment to a strong and innovative military that is capable of protecting our nation here at home and abroad," said Thornberry, who served as a member of the joint House-Senate Conference Committee for the bill. "I am also encouraged to see that the bill recognizes the importance of maintaining defense programs in our part of Texas, even during this difficult budget environment."
Included in the bill is a 1.6 percent increase in military pay and a cap on future health care fee increases for military retirees to cost of living adjustments (COLAs). It also freezes $700 million in aid to Pakistan until the Pentagon provides a report detailing the strategy and effectiveness of such assistance. There are also provisions requiring the President to impose sanctions against foreign firms that have dealings with the Central Bank of Iran.
Locally, the legislation requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report on expanding the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program (ENJJPT) at Shepherd Air Force Base. In Amarillo, the measure meets the Administration's budget request for Pantex operations at $165 million and provides $67 million in funding for the completion of the High Explosive Pressing Facility at the Amarillo plant, which broke ground in August 2011. It also allocates $2.1 billion for procurement of the MV-22 Ospreys for the Marine Corps and $339 million for CV-22 Ospreys for the Air Force--both aircraft are produced at Amarillo's Bell-Helicopter facility.
The NDAA also reaffirms and clarifies current law regarding the military's authority to detain certain individuals, pursuant to the Authorization of Use of Military Force, from al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces who are in engaged in armed conflict with the United States. The language specifically exempts U.S. citizens and lawful resident aliens and does not extend any new authorities or change current law.
Additionally, the legislation prohibits the transfer or release of Guantanamo detainees to or within the United States; prohibit the use of funds to house Guantanamo detainees in the United States; and, requires military custody for al Qaeda and associated terrorist who are captured plotting an attack on the United States, except when the President waives this requirement as not being in the national security interest of the United States.
Thornberry explained the clarifications of policy, saying that "nothing here affects U.S. citizens. The language exempting citizens and lawful resident aliens is explicit and consistent with our values. I believe overall, the provisions in this bill are small steps towards having this Congress back in detention decisions. I think it is the right small step."
The bill, which has passed both the House and the Senate, will now move to the President's desk to be signed into law.