House panel backs $642 bn US defence bill

The US defence bill calls for construction of a missile defence site on East Coast, restores aircraft and ships slated for early retirement.

Washington: The House Armed Services Committee on Thursday overwhelmingly backed a USD 642 billion US defence bill that calls for construction of a missile defence site on the East Coast, restores aircraft and ships slated for early retirement and ignores the Pentagon`s cost-saving request for another round of domestic base closings.

Despite the clamour for fiscal discipline, the committee crafted a military spending blueprint that`s USD 8 billion more than the level President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to last summer in the deficit-cutting law. The panel vote early this morning was 56-5.

Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon, the Republican chairman of the committee, said in a statement that the legislation meets his goal of "keeping faith with American`s men and women in uniform; restoring fiscal sanity to a defence budget that is inconsistent with the threats America faces and rebuilding a force after a decade of war”.

The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote on the spending blueprint next week, but the legislation will be significantly changed in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where lawmakers are sticking to the lower spending level.

Over hours of sometimes testy debate, the committee backed construction of a missile defence site on the East Coast, rejecting Pentagon arguments that the facility is unnecessary and Democratic complaints that the nearly USD 5 billion project amounts to wasteful spending in a time of tight budgets.

Republicans insisted that the site is necessary in the event that Iran or North Korea develops an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of attacking the East Coast. Democrats countered that throwing billions of dollars at a missile defence system plagued by failures made no sense, especially when the threat from the two nations is highly uncertain and many in Washington are demanding fiscal discipline.

This "would be spending up to USD 5 billion in the next three years on a missile defence system that doesn`t work," said Representative John Garamendi, a Democrat who offered an amendment to eliminate the project from the Republican-backed bill.

The chief proponent of constructing the site, Representative Michael Turner, a Republican, said, "We need to proceed with missile defence whether this president wants to or not."

On a largely party-line vote, the panel rejected Garamendi`s effort, 33-28.
Since the mid-1980s, the Pentagon has spent nearly USD 150 billion on missile defence programs and envisions another USD 44 billion over the next five years. But it is not looking to construct a facility on the East Coast.