Home News House passes $611 billion defense bill, prohibits closing of Guantanamo Bay

House passes $611 billion defense bill, prohibits closing of Guantanamo Bay

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Guantanimo bay
A guards sits in a tower overlooking Guantanamo detention camp, at Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led House is pushing ahead with a $611 billion bill that prohibits closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, forbids the from trimming the number of bases and awards U.S. their largest pay raise in six years.

Lawmakers are scheduled to vote Friday on the legislation, which authorizes spending for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. The bill includes an agreement that prevents the Department from forcing thousands of California National Guard to repay enlistment bonuses and benefits they received a decade after they signed up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During his 2008 bid for president, Barack Obama pledged to close the detention facility at Guantanamo, which he called a recruiting tool for extremist groups. But Republicans and a number of Democrats repeatedly thwarted his goal over the ensuing years, arguing the prison was badly needed for housing suspected terrorists. The ban on closing the prison also includes a prohibition on moving Guantanamo detainees to facilities in the U.S.

President-elect Donald Trump has not only pledged to keep Guantanamo open, he said during the campaign that he wants to “load it up with some bad dudes.”

The legislation also authorizes a 2.1 percent pay raise for the — a half-percentage point higher than the requested in its budget presentation. The Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said it’s the largest pay increase since 2010.

The White House of Management and Budget objected to the larger raise, telling lawmakers earlier this year that the lower amount would save $336 million this fiscal year and $2.2 billion through 2021. A bigger raise, it said, would upset the needed balance between competitive pay and acquiring cutting-edge equipment and training.

The bill blocks the planned reductions in the number of active-duty by prohibiting the from falling below 476,000 active-duty — 16,000 more than Obama’s budget had proposed. The bill also adds 7,000 service members to the and Corps.

House and Senate negotiators who crafted the bill dropped a House plan to shift $18 billion from the emergency wartime spending account to pay for additional and combat gear the didn’t request.

The negotiators elected instead to boost the wartime account, which isn’t constrained by mandatory budget limits, by $3.2 billion to help halt a decline in the ability to respond to global threats. The decision may have been motivated by Trump’s assurances that he would increase spending dramatically, allowing the to add tens of thousands more and acquire new .

Lawmakers also inserted into the bill the $5.8 billion in additional war-related funding Obama requested last month. The so-called supplemental includes $2.5 billion to maintain elevated U.S. levels of 8,400 in Afghanistan as announced over the summer. About $383 million would pay for air strikes against Islamic State militants.

Lawmakers avoided wading more deeply into social issues by stripping two contentious provisions from the bill. One, opposed by Democrats, would have allowed federal contractors to discriminate against workers on the basis of sexual or gender orientation. Another, opposed by Republicans, would have required for the first time in U.S. history that young women sign up for a potential draft.

Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner

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