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House votes to block moves from Lajes Field, give more money to Air Guard

Jul. 24, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The House of Representatives today approved more money for the Air National Guard and to block any Air Force movements out of Lajes Field, Portugal, but rejected a move to freeze all aircraft retirements and transfers until the middle of next year.

The House moved on the amendments to the fiscal 2014 defense appropriations bill, with the Senate expected to take up its version after Labor Day.

The first amendment — proposed by Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla.; Joe Wilson, R-S.C.; and Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam. — increases funding for the National Guard State Partnership Program, offset by a cut of $11 million to Defense Media Activity. About half of this funding would go to the operations and maintenance of the Air National Guard, with the other half going to the Army National Guard.

The amendment regarding Lajes Field runs counter to Air Force efforts to reduce its presence at the Portuguese air base, which is home to about 650 U.S. military personnel and Defense Department civilians. The Air Force last year said it planned to move about 400 military personnel and 500 family members off the base, but the move has met congressional opposition because of its value as a site to fight al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and its role as a logistical hub for the Defense Department, USAID and the State Department, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said in a May hearing. Nunes sponsored the amendment, along with Reps. Jim Costa, D-Calif.; Jim Langevin, D-R.I.; Bill Keating, D-Mass.; David Cicilline, D-R.I.; and David Valadao, R-Calif.

The other measure, to freeze transfers and retirements of Air Force planes and squadrons, was rejected. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., would have prevented any funds from being used to rebase any Air Force, Guard or Reserve aircraft until 60 days after the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force has submitted its report.

The commission, created by the 2013 defense spending bill, is in the middle of hearings to determine future force structure needs for the Air Force in the wake of last year’s battle over whether the active-duty or Guard should shoulder most of the force structure cuts. Commision members, appointed by Congress and President Obama, are scheduled to release their report in February.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said earlier this month at a Senate Armed Services Committee markup that he is planning to go to the floor to introduce his amendment to the Senate bill that would block all Air Force moves until 120 days after the commission files its report.

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