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Lawmakers Approve Final NDAA Despite White House’s Veto Threat

Dec. 21, 2012 - 04:27PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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The 2013 defense policy bill — which clears the Pentagon to spend $633 billion on aircraft, ships and vehicles — is headed to President Obama’s desk. But its provisions on detaining terrorist suspects could lead Obama to veto it.

The legislation, finalized Dec. 18 by a House-Senate conference committee, authorizes the Pentagon to spend $631 billion in 2013. It also would limit DoD’s ability to get more involved in the biofuels industry. The bill places the development of a new U.S.-based missile shield on a slower track than its GOP backers would like, and green-lights new multiyear contracts.

The compromise bill clears the Pentagon to enter into multiyear procurement deals on several programs, including for Army CH-47 helicopters, Navy DDG-51 destroyers and V-22 tiltrotor aircraft.

Leaders and members from the House and Senate Armed Services committees agreed Dec. 18 on a compromise version of the 2013 defense authorization act that clears the Pentagon to spend $552.2 billion in base budget monies and another $88.5 billion on ongoing global wars and other operations.

The total amount is $1.7 billion above the Obama administration’s 2013 Pentagon budget request, which arrived on Capitol Hill earlier this year.

The conference panel dubbed the legislation “an incremental step to address the $46 billion decrease when considering where the president proposed national defense [spending] would be for fiscal year 2013 in last year’s budget,” according to a summary of the compromise bill released by the House Armed Services Committee.

The bill “limits the DOD’s ability to spend FY13 Defense Production Act funds on biofuel refinery construction until they receive matching funds from the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture,”according to the summary. House and Senate members told reporter this week the conference committee’s legislation merely refers back to the original tri-agency biofuels funding plan, which they called “one-third, one-third, one-third.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said until the Energy and Agriculture departments provide their thirds, the Pentagon should not provides its share.

Notably, the final defense authorization bill “restores” funding for three Navy cruisers the service intended to retire. Lawmakers altered that plan, determining each ship has “at least a decade” of life remaining.

The compromise bill would inflate the number of Navy Virginia-class submarines and DDG-51 destroyers the sea service could buy with multiyear procurement contracts. The increase goes from nine to 10 for both.

For the Army and heavy combat vehicle manufacturers, the conferees authorized full funding for the ground service’s proposed next-generation vehicle plans.

The conferees opted to wade into the murky and sometimes-turbulent stream that has been an Air Force-Army struggle over the C-27J transport aircraft program.

The bill would require the Air Force to maintain an additional 32 aircraft to meet intra-theater lift Army needs, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters.

The conferees will allow the services to determine whether those aircraft are additional Alenia- made C-27Js or additional Lockheed Martin-made C-130s.

“Conferees held significant reservations with respect to the Air Force’s plans for maintaining and divesting important assets, specifically equipment and assets in the Air National Guard,” the summary stated. “Conferees found the Air Force’s [C-27J] analysis to be flawed.”

The legislation would prevent the retirement of 26 C-5As until DoD conducts a “comprehensive study of air mobility requirements,” states the summary.

Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain, R-Ariz., and Levin told reporters the committees remain concerned about poor program management and major-program cost overruns.

“There are provisions in the [final] bill to change that,” McCain said, because with annual Pentagon budgets expected to shrink with or without the pending $500 billion, decade-long sequester cuts, “we and DoD will have to change.”

The conferees included language that would ease restrictions on U.S. firms’ ability to export sensitive satellite technology and components.

Lawmakers and executives say existing laws and rules hinder the global competitiveness of American satellite-makers and their suppliers.

The conference panel again moved to terminate the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a joint venture between the U.S., Germany and Italy. The system, designed to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, has been plagued by cost spikes and performance issues.

The Obama administration and the Pentagon wanted around $400 million to finish the joint venture, but lawmakers simply are too skeptical to approve that plan. The conference panel’s bill would not allow DoD to spend any 2013 funds on the project.

But all of that could be in jeopardy. The White House last month threatened to veto the legislation over provisions on detained terrorist suspects.

“The Administration strongly objects to section 1031's restrictions on the use of funds to transfer detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries,” the White House said in a policy statement.

The White House has yet to put out a statement of administration policy on the conferees’ version of the bill. But during a Dec. 20 briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney again floated the veto threat.

“What we put out is still our position, and I don't have any updates on that for you,” Carney said.

Levin told reporters Dec. 18 that he had not heard a word from the White House about detainee provisions included in the final bill, saying he was confident the conference panel’s final language would appease the administration’s concerns.

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