WASHINGTON - As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, my most important responsibility each year is passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes programs and sets policies for our military. So I'm pleased that in May, the committee once again sent a strong bipartisan message of support for our troops and their families with unanimous approval of this authorization for 2013.
Annual passage of this bill is among the most important jobs not just for the committee, but also for Congress. Literally, our national security relies on it, and so do our troops and their families.
This year's bill includes a pay raise for military members, and it protects them and military retirees from proposals that would increase their out-of-pocket health care costs.
The bill supports our efforts to build Afghanistan's capability to provide security for its people and to support our own operations as we draw down the U.S. combat presence there. It supports efforts to combat al Qaeda and other violent extremists in places such as Yemen and East Africa. It continues efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and materials. It strengthens special operations forces, intelligence and missile defense, and cyber-security capabilities to help fight terrorism and other nontraditional threats.
Importantly, the bill also supports efforts to live within our means and reduce the deficit.
The bill remains within the total spending level proposed by the president.
It protects taxpayers in a number of ways: by halting expensive proposals to reconfigure our forces in the Pacific region until more cost-effective plans are developed; by eliminating unnecessary construction projects, by omitting funding for a troubled Army missile defense program, and strengthening oversight of the Defense Department.
These and many other provisions of the bill are of national significance, and as always, providing for the national defense was our highest priority. But the bill also includes a number of provisions that are of special significance to Michigan.
First, the committee, on a bipartisan basis, rejected proposals to retire Air National Guard aircraft and eliminate Guard personnel across the country. These proposals would have hit Air Guard units at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center especially hard.
The Air National Guard performs an extremely important function, and its capabilities should not be casually or precipitously changed.
The Air Force proposed budget cuts that disproportionately affected the Air National Guard. The proposal was ill-conceived and unjustified. We prohibited the Air Force from retiring Air Guard or Air Force Reserve aircraft, rejected the proposed personnel cuts, and provided the necessary funding to account for those changes. We also established a procedure to prevent such poorly thought-out proposals in the future, through appointment of a commission that will make nonbinding recommendations to Congress on the proper structure of the Air Force.
Also, this year's bill continues to rely on Michigan's manufacturing, engineering and technological know-how to protect our country.
The bill authorizes procurement of systems and equipment that Michigan workers and companies help build, including several ground vehicles and the Littoral Combat Ship.
It includes $173.5 million for vehicle research and development efforts at the Army's premier vehicle R&D facility, the Tank and Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren.
It continues funding for the Defense Department's STARBASE program, which originated in Michigan in 1989 as a way for the military to encourage science, technology, engineering and math education. And it continues programs to support the defense industrial base and boost research and development at universities and in the private sector, programs that for years have had a big impact in Michigan.
Now that the Armed Services Committee has completed its work, I'm hopeful that we can soon bring the bill before the full Senate for consideration, work with our colleagues in the House to work out differences between our bill and the House's own bill, and send a final bill to the president for his signature. This legislation has been a bipartisan priority for more than five decades, and I am confident we'll uphold that tradition this year.
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Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.