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Panetta Repeats White House Veto Threat on Defense Measure

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reaffirmed the threat by President Barack Obama’s advisers to veto a defense authorization bill unless a House-Senate conference committee makes changes.

The versions passed by the House and Senate would divert $8 billion in fiscal 2013 and $74 billion over a decade “to unnecessary programs and activities, undermining our ability to execute the new defense strategy, and threatening our military readiness,” Panetta said in a letter today to Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the California Republican who heads the House Armed Services Committee.

House and Senate negotiators may take up the defense authorization bill as soon as tomorrow.

The Senate this month passed unanimously a measure authorizing $631.4 billion for U.S. defense programs this fiscal year that sticks to Obama’s proposed spending total while drawing a veto threat with its policy provisions. The version approved by the House in May would authorize $4 billion more than the Senate measure, and a host of differences between the versions must be hammered out if a measure is to be sent to Obama before the lame-duck session of Congress ends this month.

Among the differences, the House wants to authorize funding for a U.S. missile-defense site on the East Coast, while the Senate doesn’t. The U.S. currently has interceptor silos in Alaska and California.

Global Hawk

In his letter, Panetta objected to a provision in the House bill that would bar the Pentagon from retiring the Block 30 version of Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Global Hawk high-altitude drone. The Pentagon has proposed truncating purchases of the Block 30 unmanned aerial vehicles and putting those it bought into storage, saying they are more expensive to operate and have less sensing capacity than Lockheed Martin Corp.’s older U-2 spy planes.

Panetta also opposed House language that would curb the Defense Department’s ability to reduce the number of active-duty personnel in the Army and Marine Corps.

Panetta cited provisions in the Senate-passed measure that he says “intrude” on the executive branch’s ability to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to other countries and to decide where to prosecute detainees.

“These sections would preclude moving even convicted war criminals serving life sentences to secure facilities in the United States that would also be economically efficient,” he said.

Panetta also objected to provisions in both bills that would prohibit use of federal funds for the Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS, which the U.S., Italy and Germany agreed to develop seven years ago to replace the Patriot defense program.

The administration requested a final $400 million to close down MEADs. Panetta said refusing to fund it would “jeopardize” NATO missile defense commitments made with the other two nations, and could cause them to question the U.S. commitment to future cooperative efforts.

The defense authorization bill is H.R. 4310.

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