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U.S. Senate Approves $650B Defense Bill

Dec. 4, 2012 - 06:02PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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The U.S. Senate on Dec. 4 unanimously authorized the Pentagon to spend $650 billion in fiscal 2013, slightly less than requested by the Obama administration in February.

With deep Pentagon cuts slated to kick in Jan. 2, the Senate, by a 98-0 vote, authorized $525.3 billion in baseline military spending, trimming only a small chunk from the administration’s $525.4 billion request. The upper chamber’s bill also authorizes $88.5 billion more for ongoing wars.

A House-Senate conference committee will begin work almost immediately as they race to get a final version of the legislation to the president’s desk. The legislation mostly supports the administration’s plans for most of the armed services’ weapon systems.

For instance, the bill supports the Pentagon’s plans for the Air Force to spend $3.7 billion on the F-35 fighter program and the Navy to spend $3.2 billion, on what is the biggest weapon program in history.

The Senate measure would add $60 billion to the Navy’s plans for the F-18 fighter program, and endorses the Navy’s plan to buy 26 F/A-E/F aircraft and a dozen EA-18Gs.

The upper chamber endorsed Air Force plans to upgrade F-15 and F-22 fighters, as well as C-130J cargo planes.

The bill authorizes the Air Force to spend $87 million less on its KC-46 aerial tanker program than the $1.9 billion the service requested. That change, done by the Senate Armed Services Committee in May, was made because the KC-46 program received excess funding in past years.

The legislation also largely endorses the Army’s vehicle and helicopter programs. It authorizes the Army to enter into a five-year procurement contract for CH-47 Chinook helicopters made by Boeing.

The upper chamber’s bill also endorses the Army’s plans to spend $639.9 million in 2013 to develop its envisioned Ground Combat Vehicle. The legislation also fully supports the ground service’s $373.9 million Paladin Integrated Management effort and its $318 million plan to buy 58 Stryker vehicles.

The Army request for $1.3 billion to buy UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters also was approved.

On Navy shipbuilding programs, the legislation is less of a rubber stamp.

It proposes granting the Navy multiyear procurement authority to buy V-22 tiltrotor aircraft, Virginia-class submarines and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The Senate approved an Armed Services Committee plan to add $778 million to the Navy’s budget for advance procurement for attack submarines.

But from there, it gets more complicated. The measure “fences” funds for a second Ford-class aircraft carrier, monies that could be spent only after lawmakers receive more data from the Navy.

It also places several restrictions on the effort to develop mission modules for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet.

During several days of work, most amendments offered by senators focused on personnel and policy matters. The Armed Services Committee’s proposals on major weapon programs were left unscathed.

The final amendment, passed 92-6, was offered by Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain, R-Ariz. It would require the Pentagon submit to lawmakers a report describing options for establishing a no-fly zone over civil war-plagued Syria, where rebels have for months been pleading for U.S., Western and regional help against Bashir al-Assad’s government forces.

The chamber also approved an amendment that clears the way for the Pentagon to stay heavily involved in the biofuels industry, as well as one that proposes changes to wartime-contracting practices.

It failed to find enough common ground to craft language for another amendment focused on funding a GOP-proposed East Coast missile shield, meaning a House-Senate conference committee will decide what to do about a House-passed provision to establish such a system.

A non-binding sense of Congress amendment passed with GOP support that endorses a faster transition of security and governing tasks to Afghan troops and officials.

Other amendments have been focused on issues such as terrorist detention policy, and protecting federal civilian and contractor employees from layoffs tied to a specific target, among others.

The White House is threatening to veto the bill over changes made on the floor to terrorist detainee procedures that would prohibit the Defense Department from spending any funds to transfer prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison to the United States.

Once the upper chamber finishes work on the Pentagon policy bill, a House-Senate conference committee will be tasked with ironing out myriad differences between the two chambers’ versions of the legislation.

A senior House Armed Services Committee aide told Defense News last week that members of that committee are prepared to quickly begin those negotiations and send a final version to the president by the end of the month.

Both chambers are expected to adjourn around Dec. 24, but could return after Christmas to finish other work, such as a fiscal cliff-avoidance package.

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