Congress today sent President Obama a massive defense policy bill that endorses his stepped-up military campaign of air strikes and training of Iraqis and moderate Syrian rebels in the war against Islamic State militants. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill that authorizes funds for basic military operations, including construction of new ships, aircraft, and weapons as well as a 1% pay raise for the troops. The vote was 89-11. A coalition of defense hawks and Western state Republicans overcame objections by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and several other GOP senators, who were furious that unrelated provisions to designate 250,000 acres of new, federally protected wilderness were added to the popular legislation dedicated to military operations.
The measure would authorize the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels battling the extremists, a mandate that lasts for two years. It also would provide $5 billion to train Iraqis to counter the militants who brutally rule large sections of Iraq and Syria. "American air power had changed the momentum on the ground somewhat and given moderates in the region an opportunity to regroup, but ISIS cannot be defeated without an opposing force to take the fight to it on the ground," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee. "To do that, our Arab and Muslim partners must be in the lead." The bill would provide the core funding of $521.3 billion for the military and $63.7 billion for overseas operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Click to see what it does with terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. (Read more Defense Bill stories.)