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News Briefs – November 13, 2015

Senate passes $80B measure for veterans, military bases

The Senate passed its first spending bill of the year Nov. 10, a popular $80 billion measure for veterans’ programs and construction projects on military bases long delayed by infighting over the broader budget.
The 93-0 vote sends the measure into House-Senate negotiations, where it is likely to serve as a vehicle for a $1.1 trillion catchall measure that would include 11 other spending bills comprising the approximately one-third of the budget that passes each year at lawmakers’ discretion.
The bill exceeds President Barack Obama’s request by $1 billion after getting a $2 billion influx of money from the recently-enacted bipartisan budget agreement between Obama and Capitol Hill leaders of both parties. All told, programs covered by the measure would get $8 billion more than current levels.
The measure, passed on the eve of the Veteran’s Day holiday, brings the Veterans Administration’s budget for medical services to $51 billion, to cover the treatment and care of almost 7 million veterans.
“Veterans who fought on the front lines shouldn’t have to stand in line for care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve,” said top Appropriations Committee Democrat Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
It comes as the VA is still struggling to provide timely care to many veterans and implement legislation that passed last year to permit veterans to seek care outside of the VA system. The measure contains funding to hire 770 additional VA claims processors to ease the claims backlog.
“This bipartisan bill funds veterans’ care at record levels — $1.1 billion above what the president requested. With this bill it is my hope that we can confront the systemic retaliation against the medical personnel who try to protect veterans,” said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., lead author of the measure.
The annual veterans and military construction bill is invariably the most popular of the 12 annual appropriations bills, but this year’s measure was delayed as Democrats bottled up the annual appropriations process to force Republicans controlling Congress to negotiate on lifting tight budget caps on both the Pentagon and domestic agencies.
Negotiators face a Dec. 11 deadline to work out the broader omnibus spending bill, which is likely to easily top 1,000 pages. Negotiations over funding levels will be eased by a big infusion of money by the budget agreement but difficult hurdles remain over policy “riders” sought by Republicans.
Obama has succeeded in prior negotiations in keeping omnibus spending measures from being packed with too many such riders, but Republicans hope for gains on policy matters since they took over the Senate this year. AP

U.S. deploys 6 F-15E fighter jets in Turkey to attack IS

The U.S. military says it has deployed six more fighter jets at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey for operations against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
The U.S.-European Command said in a statement the six F-15E Strike Eagle jets arrived at Incirlik Nov. 12 from a base in Britain.
Last week, the U.S. military also sent six F-15C air-to-air combat jets to Incirlik to help defend the Turkish airspace against potential intruders. That deployment came after two Russian warplanes, active in Syria, strayed into Turkish airspace last month, triggering strong condemnations from Turkey and its NATO allies.
The U.S. military said: “We will continue to work closely with our Turkish partners on supporting the sovereignty of Turkish airspace and our shared efforts to degrade and destroy (IS).” AP

Federal council to look at sonar, explosives testing dispute

A federal preservation council plans to look at a dispute between the Navy and Washington state over planned sonar and explosives training and testing.
The Peninsula Daily News reports that the testing area includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca as well as northwestern Washington’s Puget Sound and southeastern Alaska’s Behm Canal.
State Historic Preservation Officer Allyson Brooks says she was stunned when the Navy said in a letter last week that it was finished consulting with her on the potential impacts of testing.
The letter said no specific objections had been raised regarding an environmental impact statement that says sonar and explosives training and testing at the sites will have no adverse effect.
A federal official says the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation will look at the situation. AP

Putin: Russia doesn’t want to enter arms race

Russia’s military modernization program doesn’t mean that the nation intends to engage in an arms race, President Vladimir Putin said Nov. 10.
Speaking during a meeting with the top military officers and arms industries officials, Putin said that the ongoing military upgrade is a compensation for the years of insufficient funding that followed the Soviet collapse.
He added that “we have no intention to pull into some arms race, let alone try to catch up with or overtake somebody.”
Putin said that while the Russian defense industries have succeeded in increasing output, some production targets haven’t been met. He also emphasized the need to continue efforts to replace imported weapons components with locally-produced ones.
The gathering was the third meeting on military issues in as many days, reflecting the close attention the Russian leader was paying to the army’s modernization amid tensions with the West over the crisis in Ukraine.
Nov. 10, Putin said that Russia would counter NATO’s U.S.-led missile defense with new strike weapons capable of piercing the shield. AP

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