GUAM – The Senate passed its version of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday evening in Washington, finally clearing the way for a compromise bill to be hammered out in joint conference with the House of Representatives.
The Senate bill contains an amendment by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) that requires a Congressional commission to review U.S. security interests in the Pacific over the next 30 years and propose a military force posture for the region. It calls the current U.S.-Japan troop realignment plan into question and freezes the Guam military buildup, which Mr. McCain has said the country can no longer afford.
The Senate provision defies support for the realignment and buildup by President Obama, the Pentagon and the House of Representatives, all of whom are pushing to keep funding and authorizations for the plan in tact.
The House passed its version – H.R. 1540 — of the annual defense policy bill in May, authorizing $303 million in military construction projects for Guam. The Senate version meanwhile would freeze all realignment authorizations until the Commandant of the Marine Corps provides Congress with an updated force lay-down and the Secretary of Defense submits a master plan. (The Secretary must also certify that tangible progress has been made on a new replacement air base for the Marine Corps in Okinawa, a matter fundamentally tied to moving troops to Guam.)
The legislation is key because it provides the roadmap and mechanism for Defense spending. However, budget appropriations measures must come with it.
Thursday’s vote by the Senate may have set the stage for a bicameral fight over 2012 Defense authorizations, but lawmakers have yet to approve the related appropriations bills.
The elusive national budget is a spending package of 12 appropriations bills, only three of which have been passed. Two of the undecided bills in particular — H.R. 2055 for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs, and H.R. 2219 also known as the Department of Defense Appropriations Act – contain money essential for Guam buildup projects. Both bills have been held up until the House and Senate can meet in joint conference to agree on compromise versions.
The money at stake includes $155 million for Marine Corps military construction projects in H.R. 2055, and $33 million for buildup-related civilian infrastructure projects in H.R. 2219. The Senate has opposed this money for the buildup while Mr. Obama, the Pentagon and the House have insisted on retaining the funding and implementing the current troop realignment agreement with Japan.
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