WASHINGTON — The Senate’s unanimous approval of a defense authorization bill was the next step in trying to insure the 188th Fighter Wing retains its A-10 mission in Fort Smith this fiscal year, Arkansas’ U.S. senators said Wednesday.
The House has approved its own version of the bill that the Senate passed Tuesday night. Both versions block the Air Force from changing any missions assigned to the Air National Guard. A final version of the annual bill must be hammered out now for an up-or-down vote.
Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., said Wednesday they plan to encourage Senate and House negotiators to retain the provision over objections from the White House.
"The entire Arkansas delegation is supportive of the National Defense Authorization Act language that ensures that the value and capabilities of the 188th, and all bases, will be taken into consideration when making decisions to transfer aircraft and alter flying missions. The American people deserve a responsible and transparent process," Boozman said.
Pryor said he is confidant the provision will remain in the bill because it has received such broad bipartisan support in Congress. Still, the delegation plans to send a letter to conferees urging them to protect the Fort Smith mission.
"The Arkansas delegation will do its part to convince them that it’s in the best interest of our country to support it," said Lucy Speed, a spokeswoman for Pryor.
The Office of Management and Budget had recommended that President Barack Obama veto the Senate bill over a number of objections, including the Air Force mission freeze.
OMB said it fears the restriction could lead to a "hollow force" as aircraft are kept in the fleet without adequate resources to back them up.
The Air Force, in February, proposed $487 billion in spending reductions over the next decade that fell heavily on the Air National Guard.
Congress responded by blocking the Air Force from making any mission changes to the Air Guard as part of a temporary budget resolution that extends into March.
The Senate defense authorization bill would extend the freeze through September, when the 2013 fiscal year ends.