Senate Passes Defense Authorization Bill
In December, the Senate unanimously passed, with a vote of 98-0, the fiscal year 2013 defense bill, authorizing $631.4 billion in spending next year. The bill provides $525.8 billion for DoD's base budget, $88.2 billion for the war in Afghanistan, and $17.4 billion for Department of Energy and other national security programs related to nuclear safety. Among the provisions of the authorization bill is a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.
Before the bill goes to President Obama for his signature, negotiators in a conference committee must resolve outstanding differences between the Senate bill and the House version passed in May. The House bill included restrictions on the military's use of biofuels, a policy the Senate reversed. The Senate is opposed to policies contained in the House bill, such as a ban on same-sex ceremonies on military bases. The differences are likely to be resolved. The bill has passed for 50 years, but unanimous passage - proof of the lack of controversial issues - has occurred only once before in the past 51. If the House and Senate fail to resolve their national budget issues and the automatic 10 percent across-the-board cuts called sequestration occur, the defense budget will be cut by $55 billion.
Among the bill's other provisions are the following:
* It prohibits the transfer of military detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign countries.
* It includes increases to TRICARE copays, but they are more modest than those proposed by the administration.
* It endorses President Obama's timeline for the withdrawal of all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but presses for him to accelerate the pace of the drawdown.
* It calls for the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on the ability of the U.S. military to impose a no-fly zone over Syria.
* It requires that the Secretary of Defense establish a comprehensive suicide-prevention program, creating a position to supervise that and other behavioral-health efforts.
* It mandates that the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs submit a plan to decrease the current backlog of pending veteran's benefits.
* It makes DoD responsible for ensuring that someone is continuously responsible for transporting and handling the remains of troops who die outside the United States; their military commands can assign more than one person, but a chain-of-custody handoff must accompany any shift in responsibility.
New CENTCOM Commander. DoD announced in December that President Obama will nominate GEN Lloyd J. Austin III as the next commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). GEN Austin has served as Army Vice Chief of Staff since February 2012. …