MEADS could get last-minute reprieve in Senate bill

The apparent disagreement comes after defense authorizations in both the House and Senate banned funding MEADS in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed last year.

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A House appropriations aide says that the prohibition is the law in the authorization bill and, therefore, the money in the continuing resolution (CR) will go toward covering termination costs.

“At this point in time, the enacted authorization language stands,” the aide said. “So the program is terminated, and those funds are to be used for termination costs.”

MEADS is a joint missile-defense program with Italy and Germany that includes an international group of defense contractors led by Lockheed Martin.

The Pentagon has warned that while the U.S. military is no longer planning to use the program, pulling out of the contract early would lead to steep termination fees that would roughly equal the cost to fund the final year of development.

The program was one of the most contentious fights between the Pentagon and Congress in last year’s authorization bill, which was not the first time Congress tried to kill funding for MEADS.

With money included in the CR for MEADS, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has pushed an amendment for the Senate to kill the funding for the program. She objected to moving forward on the CR Monday night when her amendment was not receiving a vote.

“It makes no sense to spend hundreds of millions more on a defense program that the Pentagon will never use,” Ayotte said on the Senate floor. “It’s time to turn off the spigot on this ‘missile to nowhere,’ which has already cost taxpayers billions and will never see the light of day.”

Durbin, who took over the Defense Appropriations subpanel this year, argued it was smarter to use the money to finish development rather than cover termination costs and at least salvage some of the technology.

“I share the frustration of many of my colleagues that we have spent so much money and so many years and have reached this point,” Durbin said on the floor Tuesday. “The cost to finish the development of this program is almost exactly the same as the cost to unilaterally terminate it, a point not made by the senator from New Hampshire,” he added.

Durbin said that appropriators made the "best of a bad situation" by providing $380 million "for the department to bring an orderly close to the Medium [Extended] Air Defense System by either completing the development program or paying the termination."

But the House appropriators argue that the Defense appropriations bill does not allow for funding of the program.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) made that same point when the House was debating the CR earlier this month. “The prohibition in the NDAA is law, and nothing in this bill or report overrides or changes that fact,” Rogers said.

— This story was updated at 4:30 p.m.