Defense bill includes Md. projects
A massive, $662 billion defense measure that authorizes hundreds of millions of dollars in spending on Maryland's military facilities cleared a final vote in the Senate Thursday and now heads to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. The bill, which divided Democrats and Republicans in Maryland's congressional delegation, includes more than $108 million for projects at Fort Meade and an additional $101 million for Aberdeen Proving Ground, according to Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who represents both facilities. Broadly, the annual legislation authorizes spending on troops and weapons systems used by the military, but the proposal had been caught up in a debate over how the U.S. should handle the arrest of terrorism suspects. The White House threatened to veto the measure because it will require the military, instead of civilian law enforcement agencies, to arrest terrorism suspects on U.S. soil.The administration dropped its opposition when lawmakers agreed to allow the president to waive the requirement if the nation's security is at risk, but several Democrats continue to oppose the measure. "We have a solemn obligation to support the health and welfare of our troops...however, the role our civilian-led military plays within the borders of the U.S. has always been balanced with the protections of civil liberties and civil rights," said Sen. Ben Cardin, one of 13 senators who voted against the measure Thursday. "Unfortunately, the defense authorization bill that was approved by the House, and now the Senate, does not keep that balance."The legislation nevertheless includes several provisions that could affect Maryland. For instance, Ruppersberger included language in the bill that would set aside additional federal transportation dollars to pay for road projects near military bases to alleviate BRAC-related traffic."This bill pays for some of the most pressing needs at Maryland military facilities while acknowledging our responsibility to reduce government spending and reign in the federal deficit," the Baltimore County Democrat said in a statement.The Senate passed the bill 86-13 on Thursday. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski supported it.The House approved the same measure 283-136 on Wednesday and the vote divided Democrats and Republicans. Democratic Reps. John Sarbanes, Chris Van Hollen, Elijah E. Cummings and Donna F. Edwards voted against the bill while Ruppersberger and Steny Hoyer voted for it. Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett supported it. The state's other Republican, Rep. Andy Harris, did not.Bartlett, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the bill "responsibly updates policies for the Defense Department and our armed forces to provide for the immediate needs of our war fighters deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.But, he added, a new defense strategy could "reduce defense spending along with other federal government spending and perhaps even strengthen our national security. The time to start that planning is now."