December 19, 2012 in Nation/World

Negotiators agree on defense bill

House, Senate offer $633 billion budget
Donna Cassata Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Tuesday on a $633 billion defense bill that would tighten sanctions on Iran, increase security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya and presses the military on possible options to end the bloodshed in Syria.

The sweeping policy bill responds to the new threats and upheaval around the globe while still providing billions for the decade-plus war in Afghanistan. It also reflects deficit-driven reductions in federal spending after Pentagon budgets have nearly doubled in the past 10 years.

The bill would authorize $528 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, $17 billion for defense and nuclear programs in the Energy Department and $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan.

The top Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services committees announced completion of the bill at a Capitol Hill news conference in which they highlighted the rare instance of bipartisanship in a divided Congress.

“It can, in fact, be done,” said Rep. Adam Smith, of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House panel. “Hopefully we can set an example.”

Election-year politics and changes in society shaped the final measure. Negotiators kept a Senate-passed provision sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that expands health insurance coverage for military women and their dependents who decide to have abortions in cases of rape and incest.

Previously, health coverage only applied to abortions in cases where the life of the mother was endangered.

Negotiators jettisoned a House provision that would have banned gay marriage on military installations, weeks after the chapel at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point held its first same-sex marriage.

The measure includes a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel and provides money for new ships, aircraft and other weapons. The White House had threatened a veto, but negotiators made a number of changes to address Obama administration concerns.

The administration had raised concerns about the new round of penalties on Iran and pressed negotiators for more flexibility. In a compromise, lawmakers gave the White House more time to implement the sanctions but balked at requests for additional waivers.

The bill eliminated a House provision barring the military from buying alternative fuels if the cost exceeds traditional fossil fuels, a measure that had drawn a veto threat.

The bill also watered down a House effort to require construction of an East Coast missile defense site, instead pressing the Pentagon to study three possible locations.

Months after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, the bill would provide an additional 1,000 Marines for embassy security.

Reacting to the relentless violence in Syria, the bill would require the Pentagon to report to Congress on possible military options.

The bill would authorize nearly $480 million for the U.S.-Israeli missile defense, including $211 million for Iron Dome, the system designed to intercept short-range rockets and mortars fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza at southern Israel.

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