WASHINGTON: The 2009 Defense Authorization Act, which included a host of improvements in military pay and benefits, capped by a 3.9 percent raise, and was signed into law by President Bush on Tuesday.
The pay raise, which takes effect on Jan. 1, marks the eighth consecutive year in which pay for service members will exceed the average increase in private-sector wage growth.
There is more to the defense bill than pay and benefits increases, however. It also includes $531.4 billion in budget authority for peacetime defense programs, including weapons research and purchases, operations and training, military construction and health care programs and other personnel costs.
Also in the bill is permission for the Pentagon to spend $68.6 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — enough for about six months at the current pace of expenses.
Enactment of the bill before the November general elections is a major accomplishment for Congress, especially after the 2008 version of the annual policy bill ran into a series of problems, including a veto of one version, and did not become law until January — more than three months after the fiscal year began.
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the House Armed Services Committee chairman and one of the chief negotiators who crafted the final compromise version of the law, said one of its most important items is an effort to restore the readiness of Army and Marine Corps ground forces, which have strained to continue extended deployments in Iraq.
The law includes $8.6 billion for the Army and $1.8 billion for the Marine Corps to repair or replace equipment, and $800 million for additional equipment for National Guard and reserve forces.
The new law is called the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act, named for the retiring California Republican who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former chairman.
Hunter is a Vietnam veteran who has served in Congress since 1980. His son, a Marine veteran, is running to succeed him.
Hunter said there is much to like in the law, but it still has some shortfalls.