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Defense Bill Passes: Senate Overwhelmingly Backs $633 Billion Measure

21 December 2012 at 7:34:32 PM

From Huffington Post:

Defense Bill Passes: Senate Overwhelmingly Backs $633 Billion Measure

By DONNA CASSATA 12/21/12 05:54 PM ET EST AP

WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Barack Obama a $633 billion defense bill for next year that would tighten penalties on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions and bulk up security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya.

The Senate voted 81-14 on Friday for the massive policy measure that covers the cost of ships, aircraft, weapons and military personnel. The vote came less than 24 hours after the House passed the bill, 315-107.

The White House has threatened a veto, but it remains unclear whether President Barack Obama will reject the solidly bipartisan legislation. The bill passed by veto-proof margins.

The vote came against the backdrop of looming reductions in projected military spending driven by the automatic, across-the-board cuts that will take place if the "fiscal cliff" negotiations fail. The Pentagon faces cuts of $55 billion after the first of the year that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned would be devastating to the services.

Even if that is averted, the bill approved Friday reflects cuts in defense dollars that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011 as well as the end to the war in Iraq and the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. 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 bill is about $29 billion less than the current level, largely due to smaller amounts for Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a speech this week, Panetta complained that lawmakers spared weapons that he had wanted to retire and steered money to other programs. The bill, which is $1.7 billion more than Obama requested, saves a version of the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, includes upgrades for tanks and money for armored vehicles.

"Aircraft, ships, tanks, bases, even those that have outlived their usefulness, have a natural political constituency," Panetta said. "Readiness does not."

"What's more, readiness is too often sacrificed in favor of a larger and less effective force. I am determined to avoid that outcome."

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