U.S. House Defies Obama With $554 Billion Defense Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $554 billion defense bill that rejects Pentagon proposals to curtail or slow weapons programs, bans same-sex marriages on military bases and backs indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects.

The Republican-controlled House today passed on a vote of 299-120 the defense authorization measure setting spending targets and policy for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The Obama administration has threatened to veto the measure if it impedes the Pentagon’s new defense strategy.

The bill is about $4 billion more than the Democratic Obama administration said could be spent for fiscal 2013 to stay within deficit-reduction targets.

“In an era of austerity, it is critical that we carefully allocate every penny that goes to the Defense Department,” Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the California Republican who leads the House Armed Services Committee said in a statement after the House passage of the bill. “The bill also postures our armed forces for potential future threats.”

The House rejected Pentagon proposals to curtail or slow weapons programs such as Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC)’s Global Hawk drone and General Dynamics Corp. (GD)’s Abrams battle tanks as well as Virginia-class submarines built by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. (HII) and the Electric Boat unit of General Dynamics. House lawmakers also adopted a provision that seeks to prevent automatic defense spending cuts for fiscal year 2013 as a result of failed negotiations last year between Congress and the White House on ways to reduce the deficit.

Revised Military Strategy

Obama in January presented a revamped U.S. military strategy for an era of budget cuts that pledges to emphasize the Asia-Pacific region and space and cyber capabilities while preserving missions such as defeating al-Qaeda. The Obama administration is seeking a reduction in the number of military personnel as it tries to cut $487 billion from the defense budget over the next decade.

The 2013 defense authorization bill seeks to slow the pace of personnel reductions in the military and would block new rounds of military base closings in the U.S.

The House-passed legislation would block same-sex marriages and “marriage-like” ceremonies on military bases. Last year, Obama ended the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the military.

Indefinite Detention

The House measure backs indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects, including U.S. citizens, captured on U.S. soil. A coalition of Democrats and Republicans failed today to roll back existing defense policy.

The coalition, led by Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, sought to include a provision to allow terrorism suspects seized on U.S. soil to be handled by civilian courts and not in military custody.

“To give the president the power to take away a person’s freedom and lock them up, potentially simply based on allegations, without due process, and without the civil liberties protected by our constitution, is an extraordinary step,” Smith said in a statement today.

En route to final passage, the House rejected calls for an end to the war in Afghanistan and blocking assistance funds to Pakistan.

Withdrawing Troops

The debate on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role in the stability of its neighbor preceded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit this weekend in Chicago where the U.S. will press allies to stick to a plan of withdrawing combat troops by the end of 2014.

The House yesterday backed a provision that would prohibit the Defense Department from awarding a contract to supply helicopters to the Afghan security forces to any entity “controlled, directed or influenced” by a state that has supplied weapons to Syria or a state-sponsor of terrorism.

The Pentagon has said it’s in a bind, with nowhere to turn for helicopters needed by Afghanistan’s air force except Russia, a top arms supplier to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. Army has a $375 million contract to buy 21 Russian-made MI-17 helicopters for the Afghans from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-run arms trader.

The measure also includes a provision written by Kay Granger, a Texas Republican, that forces the Obama administration to sell to Taiwan no fewer than 66 Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) F-16 C/D fighter jets which are built in her state.

War Operations

The House armed services panel approved $88.5 billion as requested for war operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The war funds are in addition to the $554 billion base bill that includes budget authority for military construction and Energy Department defense programs.

While the armed services panel endorsed the Pentagon’s request to buy 29 F-35 stealth jets made by Bethesda, Maryland- based Lockheed Martin, it is pressing the Defense Department to disclose by Dec. 31 the date by which it expects the three versions of the fighter planes to become operational. The Pentagon requested $9.1 billion for the F-35 in the 2013 budget.

The panel backed the full budget request of $292 million for research and development of a new long-range strike bomber, attaching a provision pressing the Air Force to ensure that the plane can carry nuclear weapons as soon as it is operational.

The defense panel overrode Army plans to suspend production of upgraded Abrams tanks built by Falls Church, Virginia-based General Dynamics. The committee added $181 million to the Army’s budget, for a total of $255.4 million, to keep building the tanks and converting them into the latest M1A2 model at the plant in Lima, Ohio.

Northrop’s Global Hawk

The committee’s measure would block the Pentagon’s plan to retire one version of the Global Hawk drone by Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia, and requires that the secretary of the Air Force take “all actions necessary” to keep the so- called Global Hawk Block 30 operating through 2014.

The Pentagon proposed truncating purchases of the Global Hawk variant and putting the drones it had bought into storage. Air Force officials said those drones are more expensive to operate and have less sensing capacity than Lockheed Martin’s older U-2 spy planes. The Defense Department has projected savings of $2.5 billion over five years from cutting short the Block 30 version.

The House panel would authorize an additional $263 million, for a total of $338.3 million, to fund operations of the Block 30 drones. The Air Force spent $3.4 billion on development and procurement of the 18 aircraft, according to Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy.

Submarine Purchases

The Armed Services Committee backed the production of two Virginia-class submarines in 2014 that the Navy struck from fiscal 2014 plans. The panel recommended adding a down payment, or “advance procurement,” of materials and added $778 million for that purpose.

The Navy had planned to buy two Virginia-class submarines a year, with the work split between Huntington Ingalls, based in Newport News, Virginia, and Groton, Connecticut-based Electric Boat. Instead, the Pentagon proposes buying one in fiscal 2014 and delaying another until fiscal 2018.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system also stands to gain as much as $680 million in U.S. aid through 2015 under the committee’s legislation for the system built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.

Some provisions added by the House committee may become items for negotiation with the Senate. The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to start considering its version of the defense authorization bill on May 22.

The bill is H.R. 4310.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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