The conference version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act reflects both positive steps forward and areas for improvement.
On the positive side, it provides for a pay raise for service members of 2.1 percent, which will help our troops keep up with the rising cost of living. Additionally, it stops the reckless troop reductions for the active Army and Marine Corps, keeping the Army at 476,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps at 185,000. The administration had planned to make significant cuts in both services. As the Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Military Strength assessed, the Army and Marine Corps are already smaller than they have been in modern history and continued reductions would have further jeopardized America’s security. Further, Congress wisely removed a provision requiring women to register for the draft.
Additional funds were also provided to fill readiness shortfalls, a need which has recently been highlighted by shortages in pilots, flying hours, spare parts, fuel and ammunition.
However, there are some areas in which lawmakers should have done better. Congress chose not to maintain language which would increase procurement of the F-35 and F-18 aircraft, and additional numbers of helicopters, missiles, and other essential equipment, all of which were either in the House or Senate version of the NDAA. These additional aircraft, helicopters and missiles would have helped the new administration start the rebuilding of the U.S. military from its historically low current levels. House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, who had championed this desperately needed equipment, expressed a hope Wednesday morning that the new administration will seek funding for these and other removed items “as soon as they get their feet on the ground."
We also are disappointed to see lawmakers agree to remove the Russell amendment from the conference report. It reflected sound policy that would prevent the administration from stripping contracts and grants from faith-based social service providers whose internal staffing policies reflect their faith.
“In total, the 2017 NDAA provides a firm basis from which the new administration can start re-building America’s military after years of budget cuts. This rebuilding should focus on both ensuring America’s military is the right size to defend our national interests, and to provide our men and women the best equipment available in the necessary quantities to maintain a decisive advantage over our potential adversaries, now and into the future.”