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Defense Policy Bill Awaits President's Signature: HR 6523, the modified version of the Fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill, last week cleared the final hurdles en route to President Obama's desk for his signature. The Senate approved the $724.6 billion piece of legislation on Dec. 22, five days after the House voted in favor of it. The bill provides $548.2 billion for the Pentagon's base budget ($0.7 billion less than Administration's request), $158.7 billion for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq ($0.6 billion less), and $17.7 billion for Energy Department national security programs (same). "At a time when we have roughly 150,000 US soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, [passing the bill] will send an important message that we, as a nation, stand behind them and appreciate their service," stated Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, in a committee release following the Senate's vote. Among its provisions, the bill authorizes a 1.4 percent pay raise for US service members. The bill neither authorizes nor restricts funding for the F136, the competing engine for the F-35 strike fighter, reports Reuters. (See also Defense Secretary Robert Gates' statement)