Levin, the Senate Armed Services chairman, and other Democrats oppose the idea of mandating the construction of a missile defense site on the East Coast.
Clearing the conference report would continue more than a half-century of success in completing the national defense authorization bill.
The House version of the defense policy bill, which was passed in May, included a provision sponsored by Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee chairman, that would mandate an anti-ballistic-missile site on the East Coast.
The Senate version of the bill (S 3254) did not include such a provision, although Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., had entertained the idea of offering an amendment that would have called for a study into the matter. They later decided not to offer the amendment, in an effort to expedite passage on the Senate floor.
Turner’s amendment was later bolstered when a congressionally mandated report on missile defense by the National Academy of Sciences, ordered by Congress in the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill (PL 110-417), validated some GOP concerns that the president’s European phased missile defense plan would not provide enough of a defense of the homeland against a limited ballistic-missile attack from Iran.
The report noted that an East Coast site “obviates the need for early interceptor bases” in Europe, unless they are required for European defense.
A senior Senate Democrat, however, argued that there has been no military recommendation or requirement offered to support an East Coast anti-missile battery.
Nonetheless, conferees and staff are working to fashion language about the missile site that is palatable to Democrats and avoids a presidential veto yet also reflects the will of the House and the desire of many in the GOP that the Pentagon move toward an East Coast missile defense site.
Ayotte said she believed that conferees could find a way to include a provision supporting an East Coast site with “some conditionality.” But, she emphasized, it would be important for the Defense Department to look at the environmental impact of such a site.
Even though progress on the issue has been made, one senior aide noted that it won’t be complete until Tuesday, when conferees sign off on the conference report.