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The Oklahoman: U.S. House sends on defense bill protecting AWACS at Tinker Air Force Base

December 5, 2014
News Stories

The Oklahoman - Chris Casteel

The U.S. House easily passed a $585 billion defense bill on Thursday that protects Tinker Air Force Base from some of the Pentagon’s proposed cuts and promises more money for the huge maintenance depot there.

The bill passed 300-119, with all five of Oklahoma’s U.S. House members in favor. It now heads to the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, negotiated the final version of the bill and strongly supports it.

But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, has vowed to use all procedural means at his disposal to stall final passage because of his objections to a package of federal land acquisitions that was added by top congressional leaders to the defense bill.

Still, the measure, which sets Pentagon policy for the next year, is expected to clear before Congress leaves for Christmas.

Pay raises

Most active duty troops would get a 1 percent pay raise under the legislation, though there are small cuts to commissary and housing subsidies.

Inhofe prevented the Pentagon from deactivating — at least for a year — seven of the 27 AWACS planes at Tinker and a Reserve unit associated with them.

He also inserted language pressing the Air Force to continue a C-130 modernization program managed by Boeing in Oklahoma City.

And he helped boost the authorized funding for aircraft maintenance by $666 million, some of which should flow to the repair depot at Tinker.

Bill is praised

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, whose district includes Tinker and Fort Sill, the U.S. Army post in Lawton, praised the legislation, saying that it shows bipartisan commitment “to giving our military the resources they need both at home and abroad.”

Cole, a key member of the panel that approves military spending, secured money in July to pay for the full fleet of AWACS, command-and-control planes that have been based at Tinker for decades.

Cole said the increase for aircraft maintenance addressed a critical need caused by the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. The money was diverted from lower priority items, he said.

The final version did not include a provision Cole authored that would have shielded much of Tinker’s civilian workforce from any future furlough. Many of those who maintain aircraft are paid out of a separate fund that is not dependent on annual congressional appropriations.

Last year, Defense Department officials decided to make them part of the furlough caused by sequestration, despite the fact that it didn’t save any money for them not to be working.

“Such a practice only delays delivery times of aircraft and raises rates, costing the taxpayer and reducing military readiness,” Cole said Thursday.

Online: The Oklahoman