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Senate Passes $631 Billion U.S. Defense Legislation

Senate Passes $631 Billion U.S. Defense Measure Over Veto Threat
“This bill provides our men and women in uniform the funding and support that they need as they engage in continued combat in Afghanistan, work to track down al-Qaeda and associated forces in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, and perform other military missions around the world,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Senate passed unanimously a measure authorizing $631.4 billion for U.S. defense programs this fiscal year that sticks to President Barack Obama’s proposed spending total while drawing a veto threat with its policy provisions.

The 98-0 vote yesterday in the Democratic-controlled Senate advances legislation allowing about $543 billion for the basic defense budget in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, and an additional $88 billion to fund wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The legislation next must be reconciled with a House-passed version that would spend $4 billion more than Obama wants.

“This bill provides our men and women in uniform the funding and support that they need as they engage in continued combat in Afghanistan, work to track down al-Qaeda and associated forces in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, and perform other military missions around the world,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said during debate.

Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., Boeing Co. and General Dynamics Corp. are among defense contractors that would benefit because the legislation increases funding over this year’s levels for fighter jets, missiles, submarines and other programs.

The White House budget office said in a statement on Nov. 29 that the president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto the measure unless changes are made. The administration objects in particular to policy provisions such as an amendment that would prohibit the use of U.S. funds to transfer or release detainees from the U.S. naval station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Iran Sanctions

The Senate also adopted, 94-0, an amendment calling for a new round of economic sanctions against Iran over the administration’s objection that adding more restrictions now would undermine those already in place.

Senators also approved a non-binding amendment calling on Obama to speed the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and to require congressional review of any bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan.

Doubt over the bill’s future adds to a climate of uncertainty for the Pentagon, defense contractors and their workers. Defense spending will be cut by $500 billion over a decade starting next month unless Obama and Congress agree to avert the confluence of automatic spending cuts and tax increases known as the fiscal cliff.

Approval Ratings

The legislation’s supporters said the public’s perception of a gridlocked Congress will only be exasperated if lawmakers fail in their push during the final weeks of the congressional session to complete work on the measure authorizing defense programs.

“I do not need to remind my colleagues of our approval ratings,” Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in urging speedy passage. “But there is ample reason for the disapproval because we have not moved forward and done the people’s business.”

House-Senate negotiators would have to reconcile the Senate version with the $635.2 billion measure that the House passed in May. Among the differences, the House wants to authorize funding for an East Coast missile-defense site, while the Senate doesn’t. The U.S. currently has interceptor silos in Alaska and Hawaii.

The Senate measure seeks to curb cost overruns and poor performance on weapons programs by barring so-called cost-plus production contracts and requiring the Pentagon to ensure that payments to contractors are more closely tied to performance.

Executive Pay

It also would curb the ability of large defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and BAE Systems Plc to charge the government for a portion of their executives’ pay under cost-type contracts that allow reimbursement for certain direct costs. It caps Pentagon reimbursements for these salaries at $237,000 per executive, a 70 percent decrease from current law.

The Senate bill endorses the Pentagon’s request to buy 29 F-35 stealth jets made by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin. The Pentagon requested $9.1 billion for the F-35, its most expensive program, including $6.1 billion for procurement.

The Senate measure authorizes funding for the multiyear production of 10 DDG-51 Navy destroyers made jointly by General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls. It authorizes $153 million for the Special Operations Command to buy high-definition intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology for its drones and piloted aircraft.

Submarine, Tanks

Like the House, the Senate measure adds more than $700 million as a down payment on a second Virginia-class submarine. Construction would start in fiscal 2014. The Virginia-class submarine is built by Huntington Ingalls, based in Newport News, Virginia, and the Electric Boat unit of Falls Church, Virginia-based General Dynamics.

Like the House, the Senate panel rejected Army plans to suspend production of upgraded Abrams tanks built by General Dynamics.

For military personnel the bill would authorize a 1.7 percent across-the-board pay increase for active-duty personnel, in line with the administration’s request.

Both the House and Senate bills would end funding for the multinational missile-defense program known as the Medium Extended Air Defense System, which the U.S., Italy and Germany agreed to develop seven years ago to replace the Patriot defense program. The administration had requested a final $400 million for the MEADS program.

Syria, Pakistan

Senators adopted, 92-6, an amendment by McCain requiring the secretary of defense to give Congress a classified report within 90 days on “limited military activities” that could block or limit the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad from using air power against civilian and opposition groups in that war-torn country.

It would require discussion of deploying no-fly zones over population centers and using limited airstrikes to destroy Syrian aircraft, moves the Obama administration has opposed.

Lawmakers also signaled their dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s government.

The measure includes a provision barring certain U.S. funds for Pakistan’s armed forces, unless the Pentagon certifies that its government was keeping supply lines open, doesn’t support extremist groups such as the Haqqani network and isn’t detaining citizens such as a doctor who was convicted of treason after aiding the U.S. effort that tracked down Osama bin Laden.

The Senate defense bill is S. 3254. The House version is H.R. 4310.

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