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U.S. Senate Leaves East Coast Shield’s Fate to Conference Panel

Nov. 29, 2012 - 02:01PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., speaks to reporters Nov. 27 on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., speaks to reporters Nov. 27 on Capitol Hill. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)
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The U.S. Senate will not vote on building a new missile defense system on the East Coast of the United States, meaning its fate will be decided behind closed doors.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., had hoped to get the Senate to endorse the idea of equal protection for both United States coasts. But she failed to get agreement in the Senate on what language could be added to the 2013 defense authorization bill.

Ayotte said she would have to be satisfied that the issue would be part of negotiations with the House on a final version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

That means a House-Senate conference committee will decide the fate of the GOP East Coast missile defense proposal. That yet-formed bicameral panel will be tasked with crafting a final version of the Pentagon policy bill.

The House bill would require the Pentagon to conduct an environmental study of potential locations for such a system. It also would require the Missile Defense Agency chief to “develop a plan for the deployment of an East Coast site to be operational not later than the end of 2015,” states a report accompanying the House legislation.

The proposed East Coast shield has been a controversial issue since it was brought up earlier this year by the House Armed Services Committee. Pentagon officials have issued mixed comments about the need for the site. Some groups, such as the Arms Control Association, want the idea killed.

“This was a bad idea when the House proposed it this summer, and it’s a bad idea now,” the association wrote in a Nov. 28 blog post.

Citing a National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, the association concludes the GOP-proposed system “makes little sense.”

“Instead of Sen. Ayotte’s premature proposal to study possible deployment locations for missile defense sites on the East Coast,” the association says, “Congress needs to take a deep breath, look at how little the nation got for over $30 billion invested on the West Coast, and ask: ‘Haven’t I seen this movie before?’”

Meantime, the Senate approved an amendment aimed at reiterating and clarifying the chamber’s stance that the U.S. should maintain its nuclear weapons triad of warheads launched from bomber aircraft, submarines and ground-based missiles.

Introduced by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the sense of the Senate measure states, “The United States should maintain a triad of strategic nuclear delivery systems and [the] United States is committed to modernizing the component weapons and delivery systems of that triad.”

Rick Maze contributed to this report.

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