Amarillo, TX - The National Defense Authorization Act earmarking billions to Bell Helicopter and Pantex is making its way through Congress for a second time. Overall, the latest version offers billions less, but not for Amarillo's two largest employers.
Area Congressman Mac Thornberry is making what he calls "painful" cuts to his defense bill after the President vetoed it two weeks ago. A recently passed budget agreement also cut $5 billion to defense spending, forcing some difficult decisions.
Nearly $12 billion is on the line for Bell and Pantex. Thornberry said the latest version of the bill still authorizes the same amount, but there is a slight change for Bell. "There was a small reduction in one of the bell programs, but I don't think it will have any impact on how many helicopters we're going to produce in Amarillo this year."
Thornberry was able to make some cuts thanks to cheaper oil prices and defense programs that are not quite ready to move forward, but other cuts weren't so easy. "Real end of the meat hurting defense sort of cuts," described Thornberry. "We tried to make them in a way that would be the least damaging to national security, but they are going to have an impact no question."
President Obama vetoed his original defense bill, wanting more spending for domestic programs and the ability to close Guantanamo Bay. Thornberry said the cuts provide more money for domestic spending, but everything else in the bill is exactly the same. "Even though we did not change the Guantanamo language and some of the other things the President has wanted, I think when he looks at the vote count and how strong it was on a bi-partisan basis that he'll sign our bill."
The defense bill passed the House with 370 votes to 58, giving Congress a strong chance to override a potential veto. "I already have commitments from the Democrats that they will vote with us to override the President if he does that," said Thornberry. "That's the reason I don't think he will. He can count and he wouldn't want to be embarrassed in that way."
The Senate is expected to vote on the defense bill early next week. If it passes, it will go to the President's desk once again.