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Obama signs defense bill but blasts parts of it

Jan. 3, 2013 - 11:24AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 3, 2013 - 11:24AM  |  
President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama (AFP / Getty Images)
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President Obama has signed into law a $633.3 billion defense policy bill but said he is not happy the measure blocks proposed increases in Tricare health insurance fees.

The result, he said, could be deeper cuts in the number of military personnel.

In a statement after signing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013 on Wednesday, Obama said he supports the "vast majority" of provisions in the 680-page bill, but "I do not agree with them all."

In particular, the statement says Congress blocked cost-cutting measures to "eliminate wasteful or duplicative spending" while blocking retirement of ships and aircraft the Pentagon no longer needs. Those decisions, Obama said, "will divert scarce resources needed for readiness and result in future unfounded liabilities."

The Pentagon has been trying to cut personnel costs but increase beneficiary cost-sharing for health care, proposing dramatic increases in Tricare fees for working-age retirees and their families. The new law rejected the idea. Instead, future fee hikes will be limited to no more than the cost-of-living adjustment in military retired pay.

"By failing to allow some of these cost savings measures, the Congress may force reductions in the overall size of our military forces," Obama said.

Obama singled out one personnel policy provision as being "unnecessary and ill-advised." This provision puts into law the so-called freedom of conscience for service members and chaplains, giving them the legal right to oppose gays and gay lifestyle as long as their opposition does not interfere with good order and discipline in the military.

"The military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members," Obama said.

Regulations needed to enact the new conscience clause "will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct," Obama said. "My administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of ‘don't ask, don't tell,' and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members."

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