Obama signs U.S. defense spending bill, despite veto threats

Billions for military pay raises, "counter-propaganda" and N.C. base projects in spending bill

The North State Journal—The North State Journal
Cpl. Logan Day drops mortar rounds during a live fire exercise

HONOLULU – President Barack Obama quietly signed into law the $618.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act over the Christmas holiday. The bill includes a pay raise of about $550 a year for enlisted troops and $1,800 per year for mid-career officers. But in a lengthy statement Obama raised objections to other parts of the bill, including a policy sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) that blocks him from closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The administration recently told Congress it would move up to 18 more prisoners of the 59 remaining at Guantanamo before Obama leaves office next month. “During my administration, we have responsibly transferred over 175 detainees from Guantanamo,” Obama said in the statement. “Our efforts to transfer additional detainees will continue until the last day I am in office.” President-elect Donald Trump, who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, said during the campaign that he would keep the Guantanamo Bay facility open and vowed to “load it up with some bad dudes.” The defense spending bill Obama signed was a compromise version that dropped controversial language requiring women to register for the draft. The legislation also boosts military spending, stops a drawdown in the number of forces, sets a goal to increase service members, and it bars closures of military bases. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said on Friday the legislation would give U.S. troops a pay raise and praised the Guantanamo language. “This ensures that, right up until his last hour in office, President Obama will not be able to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States,” Ryan said in a statement. Counter propaganda measure included Among the other items in the bill getting attention is the “Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act.” Initially introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) in March, the bill was inserted into the NDAA. It is intended to fight anti-U.S. propaganda around the world. It sets up an inter-agency center at the U.S. State Department to spearhead campaigns against “disinformation.” The measure also includes a grant program to fund anti-propaganda efforts by think tanks, media organizations, and non-profits. “The Center will develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations by our enemies and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests,” a press release from Sen. Portman’s office read. “Our enemies are using foreign propaganda and disinformation against us and our allies, and so far the U.S. government has been asleep at the wheel,” Portman added. “But today, the United States has taken a critical step towards confronting the extensive, and destabilizing, foreign propaganda and disinformation operations being waged against us by our enemies overseas. With this bill now law, we are finally signaling that enough is enough; the United States will no longer sit on the sidelines. We are going to confront this threat head-on.” N.C. military base construction projects funded The NDAA includes nearly $300 million for military construction projects in N.C. There are 17 military installations in the state making the military N.C.’s third largest industry. “We need to support our men and women who serve,” said Senator Burr. “This legislation is proof that the Senate is working on issues that matter to the American people. The military has a significant presence in North Carolina and this bill continues the investments that we need to be prepared to face future threats to national security.” The project list for N.C. in the bill includes:
Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base – $18.482 Million for Range Facilities Safety Improvements
Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base – $31 Million for Dental Clinic Replacement
Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station – $12.515 Million for Central Heating Plant Conversion
Air National Guard Charlotte – $29.6 Million for C-17 Corrosion Control/Fuel Cell Hangar
Air National Guard Charlotte – $21 Million for C-17 Type III Hydrant Refueling System
Air Force Reserve Seymour Johnson Air Force Base – $5.7 Million for KC-46A ADAL Building for AGE/Fuselage Training
Air Force Reserve Seymour Johnson AFB – $2.25 Million KC-46A ADAL Squadron Operations Facilities
Air Force Reserve Seymour Johnson AFB – $90 Million for KC-46A Two Bay Corrosion/Fuel Cell Hangar
Fort Bragg – $10.905 Million for Special Operations Forces (SOF) – Combat Medical Training Facility
Fort Bragg – $21.420 Million for SOF Parachute Rigging Facility
Fort Bragg – $30.670 Million for SOF Special Tactics Facility (Phase 3)Fort Bragg – $23.598 Million for SOF Tactical Equipment Maintenance Facility
According to a report from the N.C. Department of Commerce, the U.S. military accounts for 10% of the state’s economic activity. The sector supports 540,000 jobs in N.C. including 340,000 in the private sector. Several measures sponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) were part of the NDAA signed into law. One provision stops the reduction in reimbursement rates for treatment of autism spectrum disorders in military dependents on TRICARE health coverage. Tillis also included a requirement that the Secretary of the Army, in coordination with the Commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, submit a report to the Senate outlining plans to extend the runway Pope Airfield. The runway at the Fayetteville base has been a controversy for years because it is currently too short to accommodate fully fueled and fully loaded C-17 and C-5 airlifts. The planes are forced to refuel in South Carolina because they can’t take off from Pope with a full load of fuel. Extending the runway has been a promised project for some time, but has been lagging in implementation. Tillis said the short runway threatened the base’s rapid deployment capability. China files a formal protest The defense authorization bill also drew criticism from China, who lodged “stern representations” with the United States because the bill suggests a plan to conduct high-level military exchanges with self-ruled Taiwan. In a statement China’s Foreign Ministry said it had lodged a protest with the United States over the Taiwan content of the act and expressed its strong opposition. Taiwan is Chinese territory and purely an internal matter, the ministry said. It noted that the part of the defense policy bill referring to Taiwan was not legally binding, but said it was an interference with China’s internal affairs that China could not accept. “We urge the U.S. side to abide by its promises made to China on the Taiwan issue, stop U.S.-Taiwan military contacts and arms sales to Taiwan, to avoid damaging Sino-U.S. ties and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” China was upset earlier this month after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump talked by telephone with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan at the end of a civil war with the Communists in 1949. China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.