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Defense policy bill passes, allows funding for projects in Hampton Roads

Hugh Lessig
Veto threatened on defense authorization act

The 2016 defense policy bill cleared its final congressional hurdle Wednesday with language that authorizes projects for Newport News Shipbuilding and military construction work in Hampton Roads.

The compromise National Defense Authorization Act grants permission to spend money on a variety of defense priorities. It passed the Senate 70-27 and went to President Obama's desk. The bill precedes the defense budget.

Media reports have repeatedly noted Obama's threat to veto the bill. He objects to language that would allow Congress to skirt budget limits by plowing money into an overseas war account, exempt from limits.

Virginia's two Democratic senators, Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, supported the bill. Although they disagree with the funding mechanism, both said via news releases that the bill is an important step for Virginia, which ranks first in the nation for defense spending.

Kaine's office confirmed a number of military construction projects for the region, including $28 million to replace a fuel facility at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton and three projects at Naval Station Norfolk: $75.3 million for a communications center, $44.3 million in electrical repairs to piers and $7.1 million for a helicopter training facility.

The bill provides for another year of funding for the mid-life refueling of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. The ship is due to arrive at Newport News Shipbuilding in 2017, with the project expected to last 44 months and cost $4.7 billion.

The bill rejects another a round of military base closings, but includes recommendations from a military compensation commission, such as a 1.3 percent pay raise and a 401-k-style savings plan. Current service members can stay in the existing retirement system.

Sen. Warner said he supported the bill because "the defense community needs and deserves direction and stability."

He noted recently layoffs at Newport News Shipbuilding and BAE Systems Norfolk shipyard that total more than 1,000. Both were "caused in large part by a lack of stable funding and programming," Warner said. Kaine agreed that a "long-term bipartisan budget deal" should be a priority.

Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.

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