After heated debate, panel adds $100 million to missile program

Republicans and Democrats clashed Wednesday over whether a missile defense program needs a $100 million cash infusion, with GOP members ultimately securing the funds.

GOP members of the House Armed Services Committee want to tack that amount onto the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense program (GMD), for which the Obama administration asked $1.2 billion in its 2012 defense spending request.

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Republican panel members, such as Strategic Forces subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said during the committee's mark up of its 2012 defense authorization bill that the $100 million addition was needed to make up ground lost from budget cuts in previous years. Democrats, like subcommittee ranking member Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), said Pentagon officials have indicated the program can barely spend the $1.2 billion in the administration's request.

Sanchez introduced an amendment that would have used the $100 million for National Guard and Reserve equipment needs. The panel shot down that amendment in a party line vote several hours following the debate, but approved an alternative amendment from Turner that took the same amount from the troubled Aerial Common Sensor program and proposed using the dollars for the same purpose.

The debate over the GMD funding produced some of the mark up's most dramatic moments.

Sanchez said the Missile Defense Agency Director, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, told her on Tuesday that even if his agency got the additional funds for the program, the project is not at a point to spend the funds on its planned 2012 work.

Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said: "It is not very intelligent" to give MDA monies for a program that is not far enough along in its development to spend them.

Republicans criticized Sanchez for repeatedly referring to a private conversation that took place in her office.

At one tense point, committee Chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) pressed Sanchez on whether O'Reilly had lobbied her -- and possibly other panel members -- to change a specific portion of a yet-to-be marked up bill.

"I believe that is against the law," McKeon said of a Pentagon official possibly lobbying lawmakers in such a way.

Sanchez quickly backtracked -- after McKeon urged her to clarify her comments and to "be careful" -- saying O'Reilly did not seek a change to the HASC bill.

Turner took part in an edgy back-and-forth with Sanchez and Smith over the issue. Each side traded barbs for about an hour. Things got so heated that when the committee broke for dinner and votes after the debate, McKeon advised the combatants to "calm down."