A Republican-controlled House panel on Wednesday voted to give the Pentagon the green light to erect a missile defense system on the East Coast of the United States. (Missile Defense Agency)
WASHINGTON — A Republican-controlled House panel on Wednesday evening voted to give the Pentagon the green light to erect a missile defense system on the East Coast of the United States, moving the controversial site one step closer to becoming reality.
The site is the product of a plan hatched last year by House Armed Services Committee Republicans, who believe the system is needed to guard against potential missile launches from Iran and North Korea.
Skeptical Senate Armed Services Committee Democratic leaders shot down the missile plan last year, but after North Korean saber rattling early this year, the proposal picked up renewed steam on Capitol Hill. Even some prominent Democrats, such as the No. 3 Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, have recently discussed the proposal as if it is headed toward becoming reality.
One day after the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee unveiled a 2014 Pentagon spending bill that would allocate just more than $70 million to begin erecting the shield, the HASC voted 33-27 during its mark up of its version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — following a rousing partisan debate — to green-light the proposed project.
If eventually built, the project could provide a boost to US missile interceptor makers, radar manufacturers and their suppliers, while also giving an economic boost to the states in which it would be erected.
“The Missile Defense Agency shall construct and make operational in fiscal year 2018 an additional homeland missile defense site capable of protecting the homeland, designed to complement existing sites in Alaska and California, to deal more effectively with the long-range ballistic missile threat from the Middle East,” states the amendment, offered by GOP Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio.
The amendment does not approve a specific funding level for the project, but it does order the Missile Defense Agency to deliver Congress a report that includes “a description of the current estimate of the funding to be required for construction and deployment of the missile defense site, including for advance procurement, engineering and design, materials and construction, interceptor missiles, and sensors.”
House and Senate Republicans say the new site is needed to protect population centers in the eastern United States as Iran and North Korea continue long-range missile work. Some GOP members also say allegedly increasingly sophisticated Chinese naval vessels equipped with ballistic missiles could launch against the East Coast.
But Democrats, especially influential ones such as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, counter that the Pentagon has no requirement for such a site.
Levin and other Democrats also say the lack of a DoD requirement, when coupled with the billions it would take to erect the site, stock it with interceptor missiles, and operate and maintain it, make it a highly questionable federal expenditure in an era of deficit-reduction.
The East Coast amendment was approved along with a slew of other GOP-crafted measures on a range of missile and other projects that experts say could bring a White House veto threat.
“Administration will surely recommend veto of NDAA if it includes GOP strat forces amendments currently being added to bill,” Kingston Reif of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation tweeted Wednesday evening.