Democrats and Republicans agree that the nation’s missile defenses — designed to blunt missile threats from North Korea and Iran — need improvement.
But while the House wants to buy a new missile that has failed a recent test and commit to building an East Coast missile defense site, which would use an incomplete upgraded version of the missile, some key Senate leaders are far more skeptical.
Top defense policy and spending Democrats in the Senate said last week they would oppose efforts to go beyond what the administration has sought for upgrades to the ground-based interceptor, a missile used by the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, and an East Coast missile site, despite provisions in the House defense authorization and spending bills seeking to do just that.
The conflict is one in a long line of missile defense disagreements between the two parties over the years. But it comes as the Defense Department tries to identify its priorities in an unstable fiscal environment and Congress grapples with a long series of purchases that went awry because the military, with congressional support, bought weapons that had not completed sufficient testing.
“Before we go forward on missile defense we need a successful test, period,” said Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “Before we expand the missile defense layout to include the East Coast, we need a pretty fulsome debate after a successful test.”
The discussion foreshadows tough debates on the Senate floor when the chamber takes up its version of the fiscal 2014 Defense policy (S 1197) and appropriations bills later this year.
The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee marked up its spending bill Tuesday, with the full committee scheduled to take up the bill Thursday.Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
Several Republicans, including Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., made the case on the House floor last week that budget cuts to the Missile Defense Agency may have actually contributed to the test failures, the latest of which occurred July 5, when the missile didn’t separate from its booster and failed to engage its target in what is already a highly controlled testing environment.
“One nuclear armed missile coming into the United States could ruin our whole day,” Franks said. The president and Democrats “criticize these programs when there are test failures or delays that have been made worse by their slashing and burning of the program. ... While the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system did miss its target on a July 5 test, it was one test.”