Senate OKs bill favorable to state's defense industry, rejects BRAC

The Senate on Monday voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill that would authorize billions for Connecticut's defense industry, and that rejects a proposal for another round of base closures and consolidations.

The bill, which would authorize $700 billion in defense spending for fiscal year 2018, passed by a vote of 89 to 8. Both of Connecticut's senators voted yes. The bill exceeds current defense budget caps and is well above what President Donald Trump requested for the Pentagon's budget.

The Senate's version has to be combined with the House's version, passed in July, and any differences will have to be hammered out before a final version is sent to Trump, who repeatedly has called for a major buildup of the military.

A proposed amendment to the bill from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., for another round of military base closures and consolidations known as BRAC, prompted Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to host a news conference late last week with local and state officials to speak out against the proposal.

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, announced at the news conference that a Base Realignment and Closure task force will be established in Connecticut to fight off any potential threat to the Naval Submarine Base. The base was slated for closure during BRAC rounds in 1993 and 2005. It was saved both times.

The amendment from McCain and Reed did not make it into the version of the defense policy bill that the Senate voted on Monday. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, praised the Senate's rejection of the amendment, saying it was the "right thing" to do, and said the region "must remain vigilant in defending" the base. The House's version of the bill does not authorize a BRAC round.

“The nation dodged a disastrous blind budgetary alley ‎in avoiding another BRAC. Previous BRAC rounds have threatened nothing but hardship to Connecticut and other affected regions – culminating in billions of wasted dollars and inestimable wasted time," Blumenthal said in a statement issued Tuesday night.

"I am relieved BRAC was not included in the NDAA for the sake of the sailors, their families, and local businesses that all depend on the Connecticut submarine base and for America itself in this era of global uncertainty," Blumenthal said. "They deserve a fair shake, not the political process proposed by this amendment.”

Billions would flow to Connecticut manufacturers of submarines, helicopters and jet engines. Under the bill, $6.4 billion would be allotted for the Virginia-class submarine program. That's $1.2 billion above the president's request, and would provide advance procurement funding for a third Virginia-class submarine in fiscal year 2020, a provision Blumenthal championed, according to his office.

Another $1.8 billion would go toward the Columbia-class program, a new fleet of 12 ballistic missile submarines.

j.bergman@theday.com

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