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Congress passes defense bill with key provision for Alabama

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WASHINGTON -

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Ranking Member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, announced Friday that, following a conference report agreement between the Senate and the House, that Congress has passed the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Sessions, who worked on the legislation throughout, issued the following remarks and legislative summary: 

"Alabama's men and women in uniform are among the finest in the military and in the world. They represent every day the highest ideals of our state. During this Christmas season when so many of our service members are deployed in harm's way, we are reminded of their sacrifice and humbled by their patriotism. We must always ensure these men and women remain the best supported and equipped in the world—both now and when they come home. 

In order to maintain our unrivaled military dominance, we must prevent a debt crisis. And while every department of government will have to achieve savings to prevent a financial crisis from occurring, budget reductions must be made wisely and strategically. They cannot fall disproportionately on defense. Unlike so much of what Washington does—defense is a core, constitutional function of government."  

I can report that, after successful bipartisan cooperation in the Senate and the House, Alabama's contribution to our nation's security was vigorously defended, unwise cuts were redirected, and some valuable gains were achieved. Many of the measures I authored in Committee prevailed through this deliberative process, showing how the Senate—when given opportunity— can achieve meaningful, bipartisan policies that serve the national interest."

MONTGOMERY

"The 908th Airlift Wing at Maxwell Air Force Base is one of the most exceptional units in the country and is the perfect example of why funding decisions should be based on merit. I am proud to say that the Air Force has been allowed to offer an alternative force structure plan that saves the 908th from being inactivated and adds back its eighth authorized C-130 aircraft. The proposal also restores the 187th Civil Engineering Squadron at Dannelly Field from inactivation and secures the status of the 187th Fighter Wing and its 23 F-16 aircraft which was an important development." 

  • The conference report also establishes a National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force that will fully consider all factors in any future adjustments proposed to the strength of the active Air Force, the Air National Guard, and the Air Force Reserve. The Commission is required to report back to the Congress by February 1, 2014.  

GENERAL OVERVIEW

Sessions on the sequester: "The Defense Department is working hard to be more efficient and to maintain strength in the face of the already imposed cuts. But, if the sequester were to take full effect the DOD would sustain severe damage." 

Summary of main provisions:

  • Prevents potential BRAC closures of military bases and ensures the future of many projects that are vital to our national security—all while keeping within the new Budget Control Act defense spending caps, which have already reduced defense spending by $482 billion.
  • The authorization falls within the requirements of the Budget Control Act discretionary caps, which cut the Department of Defense by $487 billion over a 10 year period.
  • Authorizes overall defense spending including overseas contingency operations and nuclear energy defense programs at a level of $633.3 billion, just above the Obama Administration's request of $631.6 billion.
  • Rejects the Obama Administration's request to make our servicemembers and military retirees pay more for TRICARE enrollment fees and other new Tricare fees.
  • Authorizes a 1.7% pay raise for our troops
  • Other notable figures include:
  • The base defense budget request was $525.3 billion; the conference committee authorized $527.4 billion.
  • The nuclear weapons program request was $17.8 billion; the conference committee authorized $17.4 billion.
  • The overseas contingency operations request was $88.5 billion; the conference committee authorized $88.5 billion.

"As Ranking Member of the Senate Strategic Forces Subcommittee I worked to improve efficiency and savings in the nuclear weapons enterprise while forestalling unsafe reductions in our arsenal. I am proud that the Congress recognizes the importance of having a safe and reliable nuclear triad. Our nuclear weapons and nuclear complex are aging and must be modernized and maintained." 

  • Includes provisions that further empower the Nuclear Weapons Council in budgetary and oversight of nuclear weapons modernization
  • Requires the Nuclear Weapons Council to report on the feasibility of further consolidations of the National Nuclear Security Administration, and to submit this report prior to future construction on the Uranium Processing Building and Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building
  • Places a cost cap on future NNSA buildings
  • Requires a Congressional Commission to study the governance and management of the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) 

"Another provision I recently worked on regarding the important, ongoing negotiations with the government of Afghanistan also prevailed in our conference committee discussions. This provision requires that the President share with Congress any future security agreements between the U.S. and Afghanistan." 

  • Congress was not consulted regarding either the framework or the substance of the "Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan" signed on May 1, 2012. This agreement committed the United States to establishing a long-term Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan. Sessions' legislation requires the President to submit any such agreement to the appropriate congressional committees before entering into it. Because the Bilateral Security Agreement is not a treaty, the President would not be required to obtain congressional ratification, but it would at least ensure that agreements reached by the White House that directly impact the security of the United States are reviewed prior to agreement by the directly elected representatives of the people. The administration imposed this oversight. 

"I was pleased that the conference committee felt that the President had the authority to affect an honorary posthumous promotion for Sergeant Paschal Conley, a Civil War Buffalo Soldier. I will take this matter up with the Department of Defense to get the long overdue recognition that he and his family deserve." 

  • Sergeant Paschal Conley was a Buffalo Soldier (a group of African-American U.S. Army regiments formed in the second half of the 19th century) who served for 30 years and fought in the Spanish American War. He was recommended for promotion by Gen. John Pershing, then a Lieutenant, but the recommendation was never acted upon. At the request of Rear Adm. Clyde Marsh, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, Sessions inquired with the Army about righting this wrong and posthumously upgrading Conley's rank to Second Lieutenant. The Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, favorably agreed with this promotion. The Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel Readiness advised Sessions in a letter that legislative relief was required to give the Army the authority to enact this long-overdue promotion. The Senate passed authorizing language to promote Sergeant Conley, but the House did not concur with the language in conference deliberations. The Senate and House Defense Authorization Conference Committee agreed that the executive branch has this authority and does not need legislation to affect promotion. 

HUNTSVILLE

"Huntsville's dedicated workforce makes an irreplaceable contribution to our nation's security and our journey into space. The authorizations in this bill, totaling $9.8 billion, an increase of $152 million above the President's request for missile defense, are positive news for Redstone and the entire community, particularly during these tight budget times." 

  • Authorizes full funding for missile defense at the requested level of $9.8 billion of which $8.3 billion is authorized for the Missile Defense Agency and $1.5 billion is authorized for Army and related missile defense programs. This bodes well for related programs like the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, SM3 block IIB, Patriot and other theater missile defense programs and projects managed and designed by the Missile Defense Agency, Redstone Arsenal, and the Huntsville community.
  • An amendment Sessions offered during Senate floor deliberations requiring the Obama Administration develop a missile defense ‘hedging' strategy in light of its unwise decision to cancel or scale back the proven missile defense technology in Europe was retained by the conference committee. In view of the Obama Administration's plans to shift to a new missile defense capability in the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), Sessions included a provision (Section 233) in last year's National Defense Authorization Act directing the Department of Defense to submit a report on the effectiveness, need, and ramifications of a hedging strategy for the United States. However, the Defense Department has refused to comply with the law. This measure reaffirms the need for the Defense Department to comply with law and the will of the people's representatives, and to help protect the national security interests of the United States. (The adoption of Sessions' amendment follows the President's claim that, with respect to missile defense, he would have ‘more flexibility' after his election.)
  • The Missile Defense Agency's operating funds, which provide for most of the funding for day to day activities and the important work they do in Huntsville were fully funded at the request of $260 million. 
  • The committee provided full funding for proven missile defense capabilities, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense program of $460.7 million.
  • Conventional Prompt Global Strike was fully funded at $110 million.
  • The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle was fully funded at $1.7 billion.
  • Operationally Responsive Space (ORS)—Strategic Forces allowed for restoring $45 million—providing lower cost access into space for our combatant commanders, and especially Pacific Command.
  • The committee fully funded the request for Ground Based Interceptors, adding 5 interceptors to the overall inventory.
  • A provision Sessions introduced at the initial markup requiring the long term planning for the next generation Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle for the ground-based midcourse defense program was agreed to by the conference committee. 

WIREGRASS

  • The measure fully funds the Department's request for Army aircraft procurement at $5.8 billion, including army helicopter programs like those at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker. 

TROY

  • The committee provided full funding for proven missile defense capabilities, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense program of $460.7 million, recognizing the important contribution this program makes to our nation's security. 

EUFALA

  • The committee agreed to increase authorized funding for Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) modifications in Eufala, increasing the request by $7.7 million. The total authorized funds for the upgrade kits totaled $67 million. This is a valuable component of our defense systems. 

MOBILE

"The Littoral Combat Ship, as the Secretary of the Navy has said before our committee, will play a huge role in the future of our navy. This bill fully supports both the LCS and the Joint High Speed Vessel programs, which have proven to be vital assets to the future of our Navy. This is a good value for the taxpayer, the right choice for our county, and the delegation must remain vigilant in supporting this important feature of our nation's defense structure."  

  • The conference measure fully funds the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program at $1.78 billion, LCS mission modules at $102.6 million, and the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) at $189 million. Additional funds for LCS research development were fully funded at $429 million and JHSV research at $1.9 million. 

ANNISTON

"This bill recognizes the great contribution the Anniston Army Depot makes to our nation's military and I worked to ensure we fully repealed last year's damaging provision that could upset and weaken the current and future workload plans at Anniston. By repealing that legislation Anniston Army Depot is protected from unwise legislation that would have a detrimental impact on Anniston's world-class operation. I am pleased that the final outcome of our deliberations resulted in a full repeal." 

  • Overall Army Depot maintenance was fully funded at $1.7 billion nationwide. The legislation also increases the funding request for the Army's ground combat vehicle programs and modifications to these programs, by $300 million to $1.8 billion. Among other actions, this will help ensure that sufficient work is conducted by Anniston Army Depot, taking advantage of the expert maintenance workforce employed there.
  • The committee agreed to act to keep the M1 and M88A2 tank lines running to prevent unnecessary future costs and loss of skilled and experienced work force.
  • The committee also authorized full funding $5.4 million for the much needed live-fire shoot house at the Fort McClellan Army National Guard Training Center.

INFORMATION SOURCE: Senator Session's press office

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