LIMA — Despite threats to veto it, President Barack Obama signed a $633 billion defense bill overnight Wednesday.
Included in the bill is $136 million for upgrades through 2014 to the M1A2 Abrams tank that will maintain minimal production at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.
The Pentagon is keeping the Abrams in its long-term plans, but it says it has enough for the near term and wants to shutter the program until 2017. This latest bill eats into a piece of that shuttering time.
Mayor David Berger, who co-chairs Task Force LIMA, which supports and lobbies for the JSMC and Abrams program, called the president’s signature on the bill good news.
“I think a portion of the gap still exists. How much of that is not yet known, but this certainly narrows the gap for United States military purposes,” Berger said. “What remains out there are military sales opportunities that go a long way to closing the rest of the gap. We remain focused on our strategy of connecting with decision makers, getting them here to make certain they touch and feel this facility, and understand the unique production capabilities and supply chain needs.”
The president included a signing statement with the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, in which he detailed some of his concerns with the legislation.
Specifically, he complained that the bill limits the military’s authority to transfer third-country nationals being held at a detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan. He also took issue with restrictions on his authority to transfer terror suspects from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He said the section of the bill related to detainees in Afghanistan “threatens to upend that tradition, and could interfere with my ability as commander in chief to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active area of hostilities.”
The law includes cuts in defense spending that the president and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011, along with the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan. And it 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 measure is about $29 billion under the current level, largely due to smaller amounts for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The JSMC is owned by the United States Army and is operated by defense contractor General Dynamics Land Systems. It is the only place in the United States where Abrams tanks are made. In recent years, tanks have not been made from scratch; old tanks have been rehabbed.
General Dynamics, the task force, and a large, bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate say the cost to close the program and bring it back up is more than the Army has calculated, and in the meantime would harm the program and national security interests by dismantling the industrial base that builds the tank. They have advocated, and so far won through funding in Congress, a minimal production to keep the line warm.
Critics of the spending say big-dollar corporate lobbying from General Dynamics turns federal legislators who are otherwise budget hawks into supporters of spending money on tanks the Army says it doesn’t need.
General Dynamics Plant Manager Keith Deters also called the tank money good news. He had less information about a FoxNews.com report about the United States being pressured to pull back on a promised gift of A1M1 Abrams tanks to Egypt. The A1M1 tanks are an older generation of tanks, and not something the JSMC would be building now, but would be new to Egypt.
In the case of these tanks, the United States government, not the country of Egypt, would be General Dynamics’ customer, Deters said. General Dynamics does not do direct business with Egypt. In this instance, the U.S. government would buy the tank kits and give them to Egypt to build.
Later this month, the new government in Egypt is scheduled to begin taking delivery of 10 F-16 fighter jets and 200 Abrams tanks — courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. The $213 million deal is part of a foreign aid package signed when American ally Hosni Mubarak was president, but a growing chorus of critics say the Obama administration should pull the plug, Fox News said.
The defense authorization signed by the president Wednesday night also tightens penalties on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions and bulk up security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya.
As suicides among active-duty soldiers have accelerated, the bill also allows a commander officer or health professional to ask if a member of the services owns a firearm if they consider the individual at risk for either suicide or hurting others.
The bill includes 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 applied only to abortions in cases where the life of the mother was endangered.
The measure includes a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Tank Plant Tour