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Defense act approved by Senate protects A-10s from retirement

Personnel inspect an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan on Aug. 16, 2014, as a UH-72 Lakota helicopter takes off in the background.

DAN HEATON/U.S. AIR FORCE

By TODD SPANGLER | Detroit Free Press (TNS) | Published: June 18, 2015

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved an annual defense authorization measure that would protect A-10 fighter jets at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., and elsewhere despite President Barack Obama's veto threat.

With the U.S. House also having passed a defense act protecting the A-10s, it sets the stage for a showdown with the White House over the fate of the aircraft. Military leaders want to ground the jets, saying there are more effective fighters and the A10s would cost too much to modernize.

A dozen A-10s — affectionately known as "Warthogs" by the pilots who fly them — from Selfridge in Harrison Township are currently deployed in the Middle East to fight the Islamic State group. The aircraft support some 535 jobs at the Macomb County base.

"The Warthog protects our men and women in uniform and is critically important to our country's national security and Michigan's economy," said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who voted for the bill along with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, also D-Mich.

Peters also had two amendments — one funding cannons to be added to dozens of armed Stryker vehicles supported by Michigan contractors and suppliers and another promoting anti-tunneling research with Israel — added to the bill, which he called "critical to Michigan's military installations, service members, veterans and manufacturing sector."

The vote was 71-25 in favor of the defense act, though Democrats balked at providing the needed votes to immediately advance an appropriation bill that would fund the authorization, having raised concerns about using what are known as Overseas Contingency Operations funds to pay for it. Funding for the authorization act could take weeks or months to be sorted out, though Stabenow said she hoped an agreement that did not rely on "budget gimmicks" could be worked out soon.

The White House has raised the same concerns over Republican proposals for funding the $612-billion defense measure. Stabenow told the Detroit Free Press she thinks that if the funding mechanism could be worked out, the Obama administration would tacitly accept continuing the A-10 program.

"I don't think that (the A-10s) is the major issue at all" for the White House, she said.

The Senate vote paves the way for a joint House-Senate committee to settle differences between their versions of the legislation before a bill is sent to the president for his signature. It's unlikely either would strike the A-10s, however, since both chambers have agreed to protect them.

And that could be a problem for the White House, if its veto threats are to be believed. It cited the provision saving the A-10s in a message to the Senate issued earlier this month. This morning, the Office of Management and Budget reiterated the threat in responding to the appropriation bill, saying it objects to money for "unneeded A-10 aircraft" calling it "inconsistent" with Defense Department "fiscal constraints and current policies."

The White House — which not only also objects to the use of contingency funding as well as limitations on purchasing new aircraft and closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — has said protecting the A-10s hurts its ability to invest in new fighter aircraft.

In and around Selfridge, however, there are worries that if it loses its 18 A-10s and they are not replaced with another fighter mission, the base could be targeted for closing.

In its statement, the White House also objected to lawmakers prohibiting another round of base closure talks, which it says would allow the Pentagon to "right-size its infrastructure."

©2015 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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