Washington — With the backing of some Connecticut lawmakers, the Republican-led House approved the $642 billion defense bill President Obama has threatened to veto because it would block the Pentagon’s planned overhaul of the Armed Forces.
In defiance of the president and a majority of Democrats who voted against it, Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and John Larson, D-1st District, voted for the defense bill, which was approved on a 299-120 vote.
The bill contains a number of provisions that would help Connecticut’s defense industry.
It rejects Pentagon proposals to curtail or slow weapons programs, including Virginia-class submarines built by the Electric Boat unit of General Dynamics in Connecticut.
Not only would the submarine program not suffer a cutback, but Courtney, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, won approval for the purchase of an additional sub and for the doubling of construction in 2014.
“Doubled submarine production at Electric Boat is good for EB, and has massive economic benefits that will ripple, up and down the supply chain, across Connecticut,” Courtney said.
The bill also includes an amendment sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, that prevents the Pentagon from buying helicopters for the Afghan Security Forces from any firm “controlled, directed, or influenced by” a nation that provides weapons to Syria or other state sponsors of terrorism.”
That’s aimed at barring the Pentagon from purchasing helicopters from a Russian company called Rosoboronexport, a move Connecticut-based Sikorsky unsuccessfully tried to stop two years ago.
“If U.S. taxpayer dollars are going to be spent providing helicopters to the Afghans, those dollars should be spent on American systems that create jobs here at home,” DeLauro said.
DeLauro said she was pleased the House approved her amendment, but voted against the bill because “it would increase our troop and time commitment to Afghanistan rather than responsibly end the war.”
Another lawmaker who voted “no” on the bill, Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, won support for an amendment that would require the Defense Department to consider the impact on American jobs when it awards a contract.
“Our premise is simple: The Defense Department should give preference to American manufacturers when awarding contracts,” Murphy said. “Most people assume we already consider American jobs when we hand over our defense dollars to contractors. Well, we don’t, but we should.”
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, also voted against the defense bill.
The bill would prohibit the Pentagon from conducting a new round of base closings this year that could endanger the Navy’s submarine base in New London.
But perhaps the most important amendment to the bill is one approved Friday morning that would shield the Defense Department from any sequester cuts that would be imposed if Congress can’t agree on a way to cut more than a trillion dollars from the budget over the next 10 years. The bill would take required savings from other federal programs, including many that help the poor.
With the opposition of the White House and the Democratic-controlled Senate, the bill isn’t likely to become law. But it shows how House Republicans stand on defense spending, a position that will have to be reckoned with when a compromise bill is negotiated later this year.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to begin to draft the Senate version of the bill on Tuesday.