The U.S. Senate is having a hard time moving to a final vote on its version of a 2013 continuing resolution that would keep the Defense Department and other federal agencies open. Part of the reason why is one senator’s push for an amendment to stop funding what she has dubbed the “missile to nowhere.” Intercepts readers likely know it by its actual name: the Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., wants the Senate to vote on her amendment to strip funding for the tri-nation MEADS included in the chamber’s CR. The amendment proposes zeroing the $380 million from the MEADS line and shifting $205 million of those dollars to operations and maintenance accounts.
Ayotte has said twice on the Senate floor this week that the move would eliminate a Pentagon program that appears unlikely to every really work, while boosting the O&M accounts that defense brass say will be hit hardest by the $500 billion decade-spanning sequestration cuts.
Lawmakers have tried for years to end the program. Most recently, the final version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act moved to terminate the joint missile venture among the U.S., Germany and Italy. The system, designed to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, has been plagued by cost spikes and performance issues.
The Obama administration and the Pentagon wanted around $400 million to finish the joint venture, but lawmakers simply are too skeptical to approve that plan. The conference panel’s bill would not allow DoD to spend any 2013 funds on the project.
Ayotte’s amendment, however, has been blocked — thus far — by Senate Appropriations Committee leaders who are in charge of the floor debate process on the chamber’s CR. A SAC spokesman had not returned this reporter’s query at the time of this posting. (But let’s hope that changes.)
House Appropriators have said the MEADS funding is intended for termination costs — but some watchdog groups who are rallying to Ayotte’s side are dubious about that.
In a letter sent Monday to all 100 U.S. senators, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and the Cost of Government Center wrote this:
“Recent assertions that FY 2013 funding should be used for termination costs are without merit. A confidential DOD report to Congress obtained by CCAGW concluded that the U.S. can withdraw from the contract without committing additional money or paying termination fees. The report cites language in the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding among the three countries stating that activities related to MEADS were subject to ‘the availability of funds appropriated for such purposes.’ The DOD interprets this to mean that, if Congress fails to appropriate funding for MEADS, the U.S. can extricate itself from the program without penalty.”
“Finishing the procurement phase of MEADS would cost taxpayers an additional $16.5 billion, which is further reason to end funding for the program now. We strongly urge you to support Sen. Ayotte’s amendment to eliminate funding for MEADS.”
Despite her flap with Senate Appropriations leaders over the “missile to nowhere” amendment — that should sound familiar, by the way — Ayotte told me earlier today about the CR: “Oh, it’ll get done.”
“It’s a sad day in the United States States that you can’t get a vote on a bipartisan, germane amendment that strikes funding for a missile to nowhere,” Ayotte said during a brief interview. “I mean, it’s germane.”
UPDATED (4:54 p.m. EST, Tuesday): As first noted by my colleague Jeremy Herb of The Hill newspaper, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin has weighed in, signalling the MEADS funding may remain in the bill — and be used for development, not termination costs:
“’I share the frustration of many of my colleagues that we have spent so much money and so many years and have reached this point,’ Durbin said on the floor Tuesday. ‘The cost to finish the development of this program is almost exactly the same as the cost to unilaterally terminate it, a point not made by the senator from New Hampshire,’ he added.”
Durbin appears alone, so far, in his assessment. House and Senate appropriators and authorizers want to use any 2013 MEADS dollars to end the American involvement in the program — and likely the program itself.