Senate Passes Sweeping $631B Defense Bill

Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

The Senate has voted for a sweeping, $631 billion defense bill that calls for accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and tightens sanctions on Iran.

The vote was 98-0. The legislation would authorize money for weapons, aircraft and ships and provide a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.

After a decade of increasing Pentagon budgets, the vote came against the backdrop of significant reductions in projected military spending and the threat of deeper cuts from the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic reductions.

The Obama administration has threatened to veto the measure, citing limits on the president’s authority to handle terror suspects.

The Senate must reconcile its version with the legislation the House passed in May. Lawmakers have just a few weeks to produce a final bill.

Included in the Senate bill were amendments including six either sponsored or cosponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville.

“While not perfect, this important, bipartisan bill provides for our national security in a time of war while securing the resources necessary to train and equip our warfighters,” Toomey said. “This bill also includes a number of benefits for Pennsylvania, including a halt to the Air Force’s plans to close the 911th in Pittsburgh without an analysis justifying the closure. It will also provide more information on the impact of the Army’s proposed Bradley Fighting Vehicle production break, which would impact Fayette and York counties. I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law.”

The senator’s amendments would:

* Require the Air Force to justify to Congress its plan to close the Pittsburgh-based 911th Airlift Wing. The amendment would require the Defense Department to provide justification to Congress and an evaluation of the costs and benefits and the local economic, environmental, strategic and operational consequences. The amendment was introduced by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and is also cosponsored by Sen. Bob Casey D-Scranton.

* Require the Defense Department to study the possible development of a joint service military history storage and preservation facility. The amendment is also cosponsored by Casey. Earlier this month, Toomey and Casey introduced a bill, the Joint Military Heritage Preservation Act (S. 3634), that would study the feasibility of bringing a portion of the Navy’s historical collections to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle and creating a joint Army-Navy storage and preservation facility.

* Order the secretary of the Army to conduct a study on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle industrial base, including the quantitative and qualitative impacts of a production break for the vehicle. The president’s fiscal year 2013 budget contains a production break for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle starting in 2014 and possibly extending through 2017. A production break could create significant defense industrial base issues. BAE Systems, which upgrades the vehicles in Fayette and York counties, has estimated the costs of shutdown and restarting could be as much as $750 million. And in addition to costs, a prolonged shutdown could result in the loss of engineering talent, a skilled workforce and key suppliers across the United States.

* Mandate that the Department of Defense study and report on a simulator that would combine the physical effects of supersonic flight with a simulated cockpit. The simulator, if adopted, would prepare pilots to withstand G-forces by placing them in a high-speed centrifuge while providing high-fidelity flight simulation. The simulator could create significant savings for the department by replacing a portion of pilots’ tactical flight training hours with simulator hours.

* Require that the Government Accountability Office include the most common grounds for sustainment of protests (based upon GAO opinions) by federal agencies in its annual report to Congress.

* Require the Defense Department to develop a comprehensive policy to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the armed forces. The amendment was filed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and cosponsored by Toomey.

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