Congress has authorized $618.7 billion for the 2017 military budget. The bill ups aid to Ukraine by $50 million and allows the transfer of missiles to Syrian rebels. However, it omits controversial provisions about drafting women or religious exemptions for contractors.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed in the Senate on Thursday with 92 votes in favor and seven opposing. It already cleared the House last Friday in a 375-34 vote. With the annexes, appendices and the conference report harmonizing the two chambers’ versions, the final document is 3,076 pages long.
Absent from the NDAA is the proposal to allow female Americans to register for the Selective Service system, which replaced the Vietnam War-era draft but currently only applies to men aged 18-25. That proposal was sent to the Government Accountability Office for further study.
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Lawmakers also abandoned the so-called Russell Amendment, which would have created a religious freedom exemption from the Obama administration executive order mandating nondiscrimination from federal contractors. Obama threatened to veto the bill with this amendment.
Buried in the bill, in Section 1224, was the provision to allow Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) to Syrian rebels appropriately vetted by US intelligence. The law requires the Pentagon and the State Department to file extensive documentation with Congress, including details of the weaponry provided, the recipient’s location and the intelligence assessment, including “a description of the alignment of such element within the broader conflict in Syria.” The report would need to include a justification for supplying the MANPADs, “including an explanation of the purpose and expected employment of such systems.”
“We appreciate the bicameral and bipartisan support in the US Congress for Ukraine in our fight against the ongoing Russian aggression,” Ukraine’s embassy in Washington said on Thursday, commenting on the fact that the NDAA increased military aid to the government in Kiev to $350 million, $50 million more than in 2016.
What could potentially have the biggest long-term impact is the provision allowing the application of the 2012 “Magnitsky Act” to anyone in the world, rather than just the Russian Federation and Moldova.
Sections 1261-65 authorize the US president to sanction anyone responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country” who seek to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials” or to “obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms.”
Authorized sanctions include denying entry to the US or revoking an existing US visa; seizure of any property and interests that are located in the US “or come within the possession or control of a United States person.” The provision would sunset six years after the NDAA’s enactment.
Of further interest are the provisions allowing the establishment of the US Cyber Command as a fully separate combat command (Section 923), capping the size of the National Security Council staff at 200 – down from 400 or so it currently employs (Section 1085)
The NDAA maintained the prohibition of using any funds to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or transfer any of the remaining 59 detainees onto US soil.