On the last day of 2011, President Obama signed the FY2012 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1540).  The bill, which Congress approved in mid-December, authorizes $530 billion for the Department of Defense base budget, $23 billion less than the president’s request, and $115.5 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO).

The bill approves the 1.6 percent military pay raise proposed by the president and authorizes requested troop strength levels.  It provides for a small increase in the TRICARE Prime fee (caps future increases at no more than the retired pay cost-of-living adjustment.) and also allows an increase in pharmacy copay charges.  The bill supports DoD’s request for most major weapons programs.  It authorizes building 10 ships and approves most requested funding for major aircraft procurement programs, including the next generation long-range penetrating bomber.  The bill also makes the Chief of the National Guard Bureau (NGB) a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). 

In a statement announcing his approval of the bill, the president said he signed the bill because it included “crucial services for service members and their families and vital national security programs that must be renewed.  But, he said he had “serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.” 

The president had previously threatened to veto the bill because it included language that placed restrictions on the transfer and custody of detainees.  House and Senate conferees made a number of changes to the restrictive language in the House and Senate versions of the bill to persuade the president would drop his veto threats. 

The fact that the president signed the bill is a victory for House and Senate negotiators.  However, in expressing his continuing reservations about detainee language in the bill, it is clear the president does not think they addressed all his concerns.  He gave notice that he will consider “non-binding” any provisions that conflict with his constitutional authorities.  As the administration interprets and implements the provisions of the bill, the president said it will do so “in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends.”