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Key Democrat announces $6 billlion in defense budget savings

By Charley Keyes, Senior National Security Producer
  • Sen. Carl Levin says committee found billions in potential cuts
  • "Markup" would bring defense budget to $682 billion
  • Cuts include air defense program, military construction
  • Senators call for continued operation at tank plant in Ohio

Washington (CNN) -- Senators have found $6 billion in potential cuts to bring next year's proposed defense budget to $682 billion, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Friday.

"In this time of fiscal problems for our nation, I am pleased that we were able to support our troops and their families while finding savings of more than $6 billion," Sen. Carl Levin said.

The committee completed the "markup" of the bill, and it now goes to the full Senate for debate.

Levin said potential cuts covered a wide variety of programs and would include scrapping an air defense program as well as cuts to military construction and family housing projects and to an Army airborne reconnaissance program.

Levin also said senators did not agree with Army proposals to temporarily halt production at a tank plant at Lima, Ohio. They want the assembly line, where the country's battle tanks are overhauled and modernized, to remain open instead of being mothballed for several years.

That plan would have laid off hundreds of workers and disrupted subcontractors over a wide area.

The Army proposal stirred up strong political opposition in Washington from key Democrat Levin as well as a top Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, whose district is near the plant.

And Levin said the committee unanimously endorsed a new way of dealing with cost overruns on the country's most expensive weapons system: the Joint Strike Fighter, which provides different configurations of the aircraft to the Air Force, Navy and Marines.

Under the plan endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the contractor would have to absorb any cost overruns beyond the initial target cost, a departure from present practices, in which cost overruns are shared or picked up by the government.

On Pakistan, Levin said there had been "a lot of discussion about what to do." The U.S. provides billions of dollars of military and other assistance to Pakistan, and Levin said there was a lot of feeling against continuing with business as usual between the two countries, but he gave no details.

He said the committee did not directly address whether to close or continue detention of terrorism suspects at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But the committee version of the bill places new requirements on the administration before it can release detainees and transfer them to other countries where they might rejoin the terrorism fight against the United States.

And he said the Senate committee, unlike its counterpart on the House side, had no provisions to stop or slow the planned repeal of the military ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed services.

"I will strongly oppose the House action," Levin said.