Senate passes $602 billion defense authorization bill, defies White House veto threat

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Defying a White House veto threat, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a sweeping $602 billion defense bill. Among its many Pentagon reforms it bars shuttering the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, includes 1.6 percent pay raise for military troops as well as a historic provision that would mandate young women to register for a potential draft, and denies the Pentagon’s bid to start a new round of military base closings.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2017 passed the Senate 85-13, with support from both of Alabama ‘s U.S. senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions.

“From the lack of a comprehensive, coherent, bi-partisan strategy to deal with Islamic terrorists, to the purpose for the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, to policies about who is eligible for combat, the current Administration continues to make illogical choices for ideological and political reasons that are counter to common sense,” said Sessions, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a news release. “While this bill is not perfect, I supported it because it provides needed resources for our national defense, for our service men and women fighting overseas, and for Alabama’s military assets that are so crucial to our national defense.”

Sen. Shelby had a personal victory by ensuring an amendment, which will allow the U.S. Air Force to continue to use the RD-180 rocket engine for critical national security launches until a domestic alternative is available, was included in the final bill.

“The inclusion of this amendment in the NDAA is a significant victory for national security and reflects what Congress has heard time and again from every senior official currently serving in the Air Force, Pentagon, and Intelligence Community,” said Shelby in a news release. “The NDAA now safeguards the U.S. Air Force’s authority to maintain competition for the most vital national security and intelligence launches.  Not only is this authority critical to ensuring America’s assured access to space, but it is also positive news for American taxpayers.”

The amendment safeguards roughly 1,000 jobs in Decatur, Ala., where the rockets are produced by United Launch Alliance – a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.

The House passed a version of the NDAA last month, but significant changes by the Senate mean lawmakers must meet to negotiate a final bill.

“For this defense bill to become law, the Senate must go to conference with the House of Representatives and get the President’s signature,” Sessions continued. “As our country faces increased threats abroad and at home, I hope this legislation can be improved and made final. I continue to work to make sure Alabama’s contributions to our national defense are properly recognized and protected, and that our men and women overseas have the resources, support and policies in place that will allow them to succeed.”

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