The U.S. Senate voted 98-0 for a $631 billion defense bill that authorizes funding for weapons, aircraft, ships and submarines, and provides a 1.7 percent pay raise for U.S. military personnel. The fiscal year 2013 Defense Authorization bill also supports the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2014 and adds tighter sanctions on Iran.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower, helped restore nearly $778 million in advance procurement funding in the Senate-passed bill so that the Navy may purchase two Virginia-class submarines in 2014.
"Submarine manufacturing is a vital part of Rhode Island's defense industry and I am pleased we were able to keep the Virginia-class submarine program on track," said Reed, "Submarines' unique capability for stealth, strike capacity, and their ability to deliver special forces personnel into difficult environments make them an extremely effective force multiplier and deterrent to our adversaries. Locking in the two-per-year procurement rate for the Virginia-class submarine program is critical given the cost savings achieved, the efficiencies gained in the production schedule, and the projected shortfall in attack submarines in the next decade."
The fiscal year 2013 Defense Authorization includes a total of $4.9 billion to build two Virginia-class submarines in 2013, and provides multi-year procurement authority to the Navy to purchase the next block of submarines, authorizes the Navy to use incremental funding to buy an additional Virginia-class submarine in fiscal year 2014, and provides an additional $777.7 million in advance procurement for that second boat in 2014. The bill also approves the funding for other major programs, including the DDG-1000, which so many Rhode Islanders help build.
"This bill will help provide critical resources to help defend our nation, protect our troops, and support their families," said Reed, who authored several key provisions to strengthen lending protections for military families, improve mental health services for troops, and upgrade veterans housing.
In an effort to protect service members and their families from abusive financial practices, Senator Reed authored an amendment to the 2013 Defense Authorization bill to crack down on unscrupulous lenders and help prevent them from charging excessive fees to service members and their families. Reed's amendment strengthens the Military Lending Act (MLA) to allow all federal agencies responsible for federal credit laws to use their civil enforcement capabilities to enforce the 36% interest rate cap applied to certain financial products and services for service members and their families. This adds to provisions Senator Reed helped author in the underlying bill that remove definitional loopholes in the law to ensure that payday and car title loans, whether structured as closed or open-ended credit, are subject to the 36 percent cap and other protections of the MLA.
Reed and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) also included language to improve access to needed mental health services for members of the National Guard and Reserves and their families. Based on the Reed-Ayotte Joining Forces for Military Mental Health Act, the amendment authorizes DOD to enter into community partnerships with non-profit organizations and institutions engaged in research, treatment, education, and outreach on mental health, substance use disorders, and traumatic brain injury to ensure that every member of the National Guard and Reserves, as well as their families, gets the mental and behavioral health care that he or she needs.
The full Senate also unanimously approved Reed's bipartisan housing assistance for veterans amendment. Based on the Housing Assistance for Veterans Act (HAVEN Act), Reed's amendment, cosponsored by Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) authorizes a competitive, five year, $20 million pilot program allowing non-profit organizations to apply for grants provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help make home repairs and improvements for low-income, disabled veterans.
Additionally, Senator Reed backed key provisions in the bill to improve the ability of the Armed Forces to counter non-traditional threats, focusing on terrorism, cyber warfare, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He also supported an amendment to ensure the Pentagon has the flexibility to pursue alternative fuel technologies that not only help them achieve their mission but also help our country reduce our dependence on oil.
The bill also includes $59.1 million for the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General (IG), to enable the IG to provide more effective oversight and help identify waste, fraud, and abuse in DOD programs, especially in the area of procurement. Additionally, the bill improves the cost-effectiveness of DOD contracting by strictly limiting the use of cost-type contracts for the production of major weapon systems, lowering the cap on allowable contractor pay to $237,000, and enhancing protections for contractor employee whistleblowers.
The bill authorizes $200 million in funding for the Defense Research and Development Rapid Innovation Program to aid in technology transition across a broad spectrum of technologies, including those which will improve manufacturing capabilities, enhance energy security, and develop cybersecurity tools.
It authorizes an increase of up to 1,000 Marine Corps personnel assigned to provide security at U.S. embassies and other facilities.
And the bill rejects the Obama Administration's request for new rounds of base closures in 2013 and 2015.
The bill passed by the full Senate on Tuesday evening and must now be reconciled with the version passed by the U.S. House of Representatives before it may be signed into law. Senator Reed has been named a conferee to the conference committee that will negotiate the final version of the bill.