Senate again rejects C-17 cut, approves spending bill

The Senate voted 93-7 Tuesday to approve a $636.3 billion fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations bill after soundly rejecting the Obama administration's decision to end production of the C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane.

After failing on a procedural vote last week to strip funding to buy 10 more C-17s from the bill, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., tried again to cut the $2.5 billion add-on for planes the White House and Pentagon consider unnecessary.

But the Senate voted 68-30 against McCain's amendment, signaling strong congressional support for the Boeing Co.-aircraft program, which employs more than 30,000 people in 43 states.

The Senate also approved a bipartisan amendment that makes available $50 million to $151 million in fiscal 2010 funds or unobligated fiscal 2009 funds for the research and development of two-stage ground-based interceptors. The amendment, which would tap funds intended for the long-range missile defense system in Europe, passed on a voice vote.

The amendment also prohibits diverting any fiscal 2010 funds away from research and development of the interceptors and requires the director of the Missile Defense Agency to develop a plan for the continued development of the GBIs, including options for deploying them in Europe or the United States.

Offered by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the amendment comes after the administration's recent decision to scrap plans for the ground-based long-range missile defense system in Europe in favor of near-term deployment of systems to protect Europe from the looming threat of Iranian short- and mid-range missiles.

Despite the revised plans for the European missile defense system, Pentagon officials have said they want to continue developing the ground-based interceptors as a "technological hedge" against a potential threat of long-range Iranian missiles. The administration now plans to develop mature SM-3 missiles to defeat long-range missiles.

Also Tuesday, the Senate approved an amendment 91-7 from Sens. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that prohibits the Air Force from retiring tactical aircraft until the Air Force secretary reports to Congress on how he plans to fill the capability gaps resulting from taking the planes out of service.

Bond and Leahy, co-chairmen of the Senate National Guard Caucus, are concerned that retiring the fighters will deplete the Air Guard's inventory until the stateside units receive the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. National Guard boosters want the Air Force to consider buying older fighters to fill the gap.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted 77-21 to approve an amendment from Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii requiring that projects funded through earmarks follow the same acquisition rules as other military programs.

The amendment was offered as a counter to language from McCain that would have required competition for earmarks. McCain's language failed on a voice vote.

House and Senate appropriators already have been working quietly for weeks to resolve differences in the two chambers' versions of the defense bill. Inouye said Tuesday he hopes to have a conference report on the bill completed by the end of the week.

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