Last week, the Senate passed the FY2012 Defense Authorization bill, which authorizes force levels, programs, and policies for Department of Defense (DoD) budgets.  The bill now moves to a House and Senate conference to resolve the differences between the two bills.

After agreeing to compromise language on the custody of detainees that supporters hoped would lessen the chance of a presidential veto, the Senate passed the bill 93-7.  However, the White House does not appear impressed with the compromise and quickly responded.  A spokesperson for the National Security Council reportedly reiterated the veto threat the White House issued on the Senate bill last month, calling the revised language still too restrictive. 

In May, the House approved its version of the bill, which includes its own restrictive language on detainees.  At that time the White House called this language unacceptable and issued its first detainee language-related veto threat.  House and Senate conferees will now try to come up with language amenable to both Congress and the White House.

The Senate bill provides $527 billion for DoD’s base budget (including military construction).  This is over $26 billion less than the president’s request and the amount included in the House-passed bill ($553 billion).  The Senate also includes $117 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO), slightly less than the request, but about $2 billion less than the House bill.  The Senate, like the House, approves the president’s military pay raise request of 1.6 percent. 

The Senate bill, in accordance with the House, includes language which would, for the first time, makes the Chief of the National Guard Bureau (NGB) a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).  Currently, the NGB chief attends JCS meetings and provides advice on national security issues.

Last month GEN Martin Dempsey (chairman of the Joint Chiefs) and the Service Chiefs argued against the move at a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee.  At that hearing, GEN Craig McKinley, the current NGB chief, responded that the National Guard has significant responsibilities relating the homeland security and domestic missions that should be directly represented in the JCS decisionmaking process.

Senators apparently agreed with McKinley.  With a minimum of dissent on the floor, the full Senate passed (in a voice vote) an amendment attaching the National Guard Empowerment Act (Title XVI) to the bill.  In addition to providing full membership for the NGB chief on the JCS, the provision would establish a three-star position of Vice-Chief of the NGB and requires the appointment  of National Guard officers to the U.S. Northern Command.