Senate panel OKs 6,000 troops for border

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to its fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill requiring 6,000 troops be sent to the border with Mexico, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., announced Friday.

Levin, who opposed the amendment from Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain of Arizona, said it was approved by a 15-13 vote in the committee's closed markup of the bill setting Pentagon spending and policy priorities.

Levin said he was unsure whether Congress could "constitutionally mandate" to the president where to send troops, adding he thought the language "went too far," and he thinks it will be addressed on the Senate floor or in conference. Levin also said White House National Security Adviser James Jones sent a letter to the committee strongly opposing the language.

President Obama announced on Tuesday that he would send 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border.

Addressing other hot-button issues considered during the markup, Levin said the committee voted to strip $245 million for funding the conversion of a prison in Thomson, Ill., to house detainees now held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison. Levin said he opposed the amendment but a "clear majority" emerged, hinting that prospects of restoring the funding were murky.

The committee approved an amendment to restrict the transfer of detainees to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia, where al-Qaida has an active presence.

The committee's authorization also includes a 1.4 percent across the board pay raise for the military, equal to President Obama's request. The House version being voted on Friday includes a 1.9 percent raise.

Levin said Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., will offer an amendment on the Senate floor that will further increase pay to targeted sectors of the military. Levin said Webb's "creative" proposal would more specifically target people "on the lower end" of the pay scale.

Levin said he remains optimistic that there will be little momentum for Senate Republicans to filibuster the bill for including a repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law banning gays from serving openly in the military, or a potential veto threat from the White House over different spending priorities.

"I think it's hard to filibuster a defense bill," he said, adding the compromise language followed the course recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen for a comprehensive study on how to implement the repeal.

"It still requires action by the military to act on their own regulations and their own prohibitions," Levin added.

Gates said he would recommend a veto if the bill includes funding for an alternate engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The House rejected an amendment Thursday evening to strip $485 million from the bill for the second engine. Levin would not speculate on how to try and add the funding to the Senate bill, but said he was "very encouraged" by the House vote.

"[It is] difficult for me to believe the president will do anything but look at the entire bill," Levin said about a potential veto over one provision.

In other provisions included in the Senate bill, it fully funds the Afghan Security Forces fund at $11.6 billion to train Afghan police. It also cuts $1 billion from the Iraqi Security Forces fund. The bill also approves $75 million for equipment and training of counterterrorism forces in Yemen.

It also includes $9.1 billion to build 42 Joint Strike Fighters, which Levin said will fully fund the Pentagon's request. An additional $205 million is included to buy a JSF to replace one lost in battle. The House version allows the Pentagon to only obligate enough money to buy 30 of the 42 JSF fighters until certain performance milestones are met.

On missile defense, the bill fully funds the Missile Defense Agency at $8.4 billion, and included an additional $205 million for the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense program.

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