Monday, January 07, 2008

TOP STORY >> Projects survive Bush veto

Leader staff writer

The Joint Education Center and other major construction projects authorized in the 2008 budget for Little Rock Air Force Base, Camp Robinson and Cabot are unaffected by President Bush’s recent veto of the defense authorization bill, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Pryor said Thursday.

In his memorandum of disapproval on the defense authorization bill, the president said he could not sign a bill with a provision that would freeze certain Iraqi assets in the United States at a time when the money was needed for reconstruction of that country.

Surviving the president’s veto of the policy-laden defense authorization bill was $10.7 million for the center and $9.8 million to repair and upgrade air base runways, $18.4 million for a GED complex and $1.9 million for an urban-assault course at Camp Robinson and $840,000 for a National Guard Armory at Cabot.

“The check’s in the mail,” for those projects, which were included in the military construction portion of the omnibus bill, signed into law Dec. 26 by the president, said Lisa Ackerman, Pryor’s communications director.

“After a number of starts and stops, I’m pleased funding for the education center and runway repairs has been passed by Congress and signed into law. Both of these projects will improve the strength of the LRAFB and allow the base to expand its role in our national defense,” Pryor said. So ground may still be broken for the $15.7 million, first-of-its-kind Joint Education Center at Little Rock Air Force Base in 2009. In addition to the $10.7 million appropriation, the city of Jacksonville will contribute $5 million, which local residents voted to tax themselves for the project in 2003.

Also unaffected by the veto, the legality of which is the subject of new wrangling on Capitol Hill, was funding for 13 additional C-130Js, at least some of which are expected to be assigned to LRAFB, Ackerman said.

Of those, four KC-130Js will be for the Marines, with the other nine slated for the Air Force. Training for their crews will be at LRAFB, the premiere C-130 base in the world. The vetoed defense authorization bill calls for another 15 C-130Js and seven KC-130Js in the next war supplemental, according to Ackerman. “It’s hard to predict the next step for the authorization bill and the next supplemental,” she said.

Pryor’s bill, coauthored with Georgian Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, requires stricter standards and controls when the government enters into contracts, such as the failed housing privatization contracts with American Eagle Communities at Little Rock Air Force Base, Moody Air Force Base and at least four other military installations, Ackerman said.

Veterans’ rights advocates say some veterans physically or mentally wounded during the war will have to wait longer to receive new or extended benefits. The president has promised that those benefits would be retroactive once the bill becomes law. Veterans’ advocates say suicide rates are high among returning veterans and that it will be too late for some.

By not signing the bill by Jan. 1, it failed to become law through a pocket veto, Bush maintains. But congressional Democrats say that a pocket veto is possible only when Congress is not in session, and the Senate was technically in session to prevent the president from making interim appointments of positions he could not get congressional approval for.

Also, the House of Representatives left a communications door open for the president, which the Democrats maintain essentially left the House in session. This is an important distinction because a pocket veto would require the defense authorization bill to start over in the House and Senate, meaning it could require a long time to pass or change and pass.