The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee has rejected the Air Force’s proposed cuts to the Air National Guard, and instead recommends fully funding the Guard’s equipment and personnel needs in 2013.
Ever since the Air Force released its budget request in February, a fierce battle has been fought by Air National Guard advocates and the country’s governors to undo the service’s proposed cuts, which they say disproportionately target the Guard.
“Never underestimate the influence of the National Guard,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said with a knowing smile and a laugh during a May 24 press conference held to announce the committee’s unanimous passage of a 2013 defense authorization bill.
The legislation would approve $631.4 billion for defense spending in fiscal 2013, which begins Oct. 1.
During the press conference, committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the bill recommends funding that is within the president’s 2013 budget request, unlike the defense bill passed by the House last week, which would increase defense spending by $4 billion if it became law.
The Senate committee’s bill will now move to the full Senate for consideration. Levin told reporters that the bill is slated for debate in June.
“If it doesn’t get done in June, it will get done in July,” he said.
To increase funding to the National Guard and in other areas, the committee recommended roughly 150 changes to the president’s request.
Levin said he and other lawmakers remain unconvinced by the Air Force’s analysis of the Air National Guard reductions.
“There was a broad feeling that the Air Force did not have solid analysis behind its reductions,” Levin said. When the committee asked the Air Force for more information, it either didn’t get it or what was provided was unconvincing, he said.
To address these concerns, the committee proposes that Congress establish a national commission that would make recommendations on future force structure decisions within the Air Force.
Those recommendations would be due March 31, 2013, Levin said. They would not be binding, but the congressional defense committees could decide whether to include them in legislation.
“We want to try to prevent this kind of decision from being made in the future with as little care as this one was made,” Levin said.
He said he would like to see force structure cuts that are based in factual analysis and that are also more proportional.
The Air Force’s budget proposal included a cut of 5,100 guardsmen, along with cutting or moving airframes used by the Guard, including the C-27J and C-130 cargo aircraft.
While the committee disagreed with most of the Air Force’s Guard cuts, Levin said it agreed the Air Force should be able to retire its C-5 transport aircraft.
Unlike the House version of the bill, the Senate panel did not recommend restricting the Army’s ability to make further cuts to its heavy brigades, Levin said.
Other measures in the bill include capping executive pay that is reimbursable under defense contracts at $237,000.
The committee recommends adding money to the Army’s budget request to keep the M1 Abrams tank production line open. Army leaders, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, has testified that the Army does not need new tanks and that the service would like to temporarily shut down the Lima, Ohio, tank facility until tank upgrades are needed in a few years.
The bill would require the Pentagon to make reductions to civilian personnel at the Pentagon, which McCain said had grown by 16 percent since 2007. The bill would require the defense secretary to reduce civilian staff by 5 percent over five years, saving more than $5 billion, McCain said, describing this as “one of the most important things” the committee did in its markup.
Following similar steps taken by House lawmakers, the Senate panel recommended increasing funding by $210 million for the Israeli rocket defense system known as Iron Dome.
It did not recommend a third missile defense site on the East Coast, but it would request that the Pentagon do an assessment, Levin said.
The legislation includes no new detainee provisions, which remains the most divisive issue within the bill in both the Senate and the House. McCain said he expects a rigorous debate on the issue when the bill moves to the Senate floor.
On Pakistan, the bill contains provisions similar to those in the House bill. Funds to Pakistan would be restricted until the country opens up its supply lines to Afghanistan, which have been closed since November, when NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike. Pakistan continues to demand an apology for the incident.
Committee members are also angered by the news that Pakistan is sentencing a Pakistani doctor who aided the CIA in capturing Osama bin Laden to 33 years in prison.