The House and Senate Armed Services committees met on Wednesday to approve the conference report on the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, which boosts funding for Navy fighters and Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles and endorses the administration's request to end the F-22 Raptor fighter program, according to congressional aides.
Despite bipartisan support for many of the defense provisions in the bill, several Republicans from both committees are withholding their signatures from the conference report in opposition to the inclusion of unrelated language that extends the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Many of our colleagues are unhappy [with the hate crimes language] and will not sign the conference report," Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., said at a news conference. McCain strongly opposed the language but said he will sign off on the bill.
The $680 billion authorization bill is expected to pass both chambers and move to President Obama's desk in the next several days.
The final bill authorizes funding to buy 18 Super Hornet carrier-based fighter jets for the Navy -- nine more than requested. It also includes House language that allows the Navy to pursue a multiyear purchase deal on the fighters, as well as a $108 million down payment for more Super Hornets in fiscal 2011.
In addition, the bill authorizes $6.7 billion for MRAPs -- $1.2 billion above the request to fully fund the military's requirement for the all-terrain versions now deploying to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the bill authorizes only $216 million of the $427 million requested to terminate the manned ground vehicle portion of the Army's Future Combat Systems, an $87 billion effort that Defense Secretary Robert Gates determined did not take into account lessons learned after eight years of war.
"Given that there are unspent fiscal 2009 funds from the FCS program, the committee believes $216 million in fiscal 2010 is sufficient to cover the termination costs," according to a summary of the agreement. The $211 million cut is smaller than the cuts proposed in both the House and Senate versions of the authorization measure.
In terms of shipbuilding, the authorization bill includes a provision that would help the Navy implement its dramatic restructuring of the Littoral Combat Ship program. At the Navy's request, it authorizes a block buy for the next 10 ships -- a contract mechanism that essentially would commit the service to buy two ships in fiscal 2010, with options for more purchases in future years.
As expected, the bill does not authorize funds for more F-22s. The House-passed bill included a $369 million down payment to buy 12 F-22s next year, but Obama and Gates persuaded lawmakers over the last several months to end the program at the 187 fighters already ordered.
After Wednesday's conference meeting, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he does not expect the bill's $560 million authorization for continued development of a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to become veto bait. The White House has said it would veto the measure if the engine program "seriously disrupts" the F-35 program.
Levin pointed out that the conference agreement authorizes funding for all 30 F-35s the administration sought for fiscal 2010. The House bill had authorized money for only 28 F-35s to pay for the second engine.
"It's hard to imagine them vetoing an authorization bill when we don't impact the program negatively," Levin said.