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Senate panel OKs defense spending freeze

Sep. 15, 2011 - 04:21PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 15, 2011 - 04:21PM  |  

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Thursday for a defense spending bill that provides $513 billion for the Pentagon's base budget, freezing spending at 2011 levels.

The committee also agreed to $118 billion for overseas contingency operations, fully funding President Obama's request.

At $513 billion, the bill cuts $26 billion from the Pentagon's base budget request, which was submitted in February. The spending bill does not include military construction, which is funded under separate legislation.

Committee chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said the spending freeze is consistent with cuts directed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, passed by Congress in early August to avoid defaulting on U.S. debt obligations.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., vice chairman of the committee, said he would not have recommended these cuts under different circumstances, but said it was a "solid bill" that "meets our needs for national security."

Inouye cautioned his colleagues that deeper cuts to defense that go beyond this bill would hurt.

To meet the $26 billion cut, the bill includes 580 line-item reductions, including a $695 million cut from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the termination of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program.

The committee's bill would freeze JSF production at 2011 levels for 2012 and "reduces production ramp in 2013 to minimize concurrency in test and production in order to avoid costly modification bills in the future," a committee press release says.

In addition to the JLTV termination, the bill would reduce funding for the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle program "due to schedule delays and changes to the acquisition strategy."

The bill also reduces funding for the Joint Tactical Radio System, citing delayed production decisions.

The bill directs the cancellation of the Defense Weather Satellite System and provides funds for a new competitive development program.

For the Navy's Mobile Landing Platform, the bill eliminates funding for one ship, noting Congress funded it in the 2011 appropriations bill.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was concerned this move would cause layoffs in her state.

Inouye assured her that he would work with her on the issue during conference negotiations with the House.

The bill also reduces funding for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense interceptors that cannot be produced in 2012.

In some areas, Senate appropriators agreed to increase funding.

Funds were added for an additional six Army Black Hawk helicopters and $120 million was added for "efficient production of Air Force C-130Js."

The bill adds $250 million for vehicle survivability upgrades for mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, an additional $500 million for National Guard and Reserve equipment, and an additional $240 million for 49 more Abrams tank upgrades.

It also fully funds the Pentagon's research and development request and increases funding for cyber security, nanotechnology and space situational awareness.

The bill also adds $200 million for the Rapid Innovation Fund, an initiative authorized by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., introduced two amendments on missile defense, both of which failed to win enough votes.

The first would delay funding for the X-band radar, an early warning system designed to provide data on possible Iranian threats.

Kirk said he wanted to delay the money until the Obama administration could assure Congress that all of the data being collected by the system could be used in defense of Israel.

"This is a NATO agreement and it protects our interests," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said.

Kirk submitted a second amendment that would limit sharing missile defense data with Russia.

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