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Spending Deal Includes Funding for 1.3% Troop Pay Raise, More Weapons

U.S. lawmakers early Wednesday agreed to a $1.1 trillion spending deal for the fiscal year that includes funding for a 1.3-percent troop pay raise and more weapons from fighter jets to helicopters.

The spending package rolls several fiscal 2016 appropriations bills into one -- known as an omnibus -- and would authorize about $573 billion for defense, including $514 billion for the base budget and almost $59 billion for the war budget, or overseas contingency operations, known as OCO, according to information released by congressional committees.

While the overall amount is less than President Barack Obama's request, it supports the two-year budget deal that Congress and White House agreed to last month. The pact eased automatic spending caps known as sequestration and raised the debt ceiling through March 2017.

The House of Representatives may vote on the spending package as early as Friday.

Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican from Mississippi and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, urged his colleagues to support the measure. "This legislation is our best option to responsibly meet national security requirements, improve our country's infrastructure and address other public needs," he said in a statement.

Pay, Housing

The deal includes $129 billion to pay for a military force of 2.1 million troops, including 1.3 million active-duty service members and 811,000 reservists. That's $1.2 billion more than the enacted amount for fiscal 2015.

As expected, the measure includes funding for a 1.3 percent military pay raise in 2016. The change to monthly basic pay will take effect Jan. 1

The level is slightly higher than the 1 percent increase service members have received the past two years but less than the 2.3 percent estimated increase in private sector wage growth -- which the military raise is supposed to track by law. Lawmakers effectively left the decision up to Obama, who in August set the figure at 1.3 percent.

The legislation also would slow the growth of basic allowances for housing, or BAH, so service members on average pay 2 percent of their housing costs in 2016, 3 percent in 2017, 4 percent in 2018 and 5 percent in 2019 and thereafter. Troops won't see a modification in the allowance until they change duty stations.

In the 1980s, service members paid upwards of 15 percent of their housing costs out of pocket.

Lawmakers agreed to shelve a plan to limit married military couples to receiving one housing allowance, but pledged to "reform this policy next year" and ordered Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to submit a report on the issue to the congressional armed services committees by March 1, according to the text of the bill.

Weapons, Equipment

The spending package adds several billion dollars to the operation and maintenance accounts so the military can conduct more training exercises with additional "flying hours, tank miles, steaming days, equipment and depot maintenance and base operations," the committee summary states.

It also includes $111 billion in procurement, with added funding for the military services to buy more quantities of such aircraft as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and EA-18G Growler and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet attack aircraft.

Specifically, the legislation would authorize funding for 68 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters made by Lockheed Martin Corp., or 11 more than what the Pentagon requested, including six more F-35B jump-jets for the Marine Corps, three more F-35A for the Air Force and two more F-35C for the Navy.

The bill includes additional money for the Army to purchase 102 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters made by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., now part of Lockheed, or eight more than what the Defense Department asked for.

It also would authorize funding for the Navy to buy seven EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft and five F/A-18E/F Super Hornets made by Boeing Co. The Navy didn't requested funding for either of the planes in its format budget, though it did list Super Hornets on its unfunded priorities list.

--Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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