GOP plans East Coast missile defense shield

by JEREMY HERB May 9, 2012

A new Republican plan to set up a missile defense site on the East Coast has attracted election-year fireworks, with Democrats accusing the GOP of pushing the idea to undercut President Obama's national-security credentials. 

Democrats say Republicans are playing politics, but GOP members hit back saying the site is necessary to get ahead of the rising threat of Iran's missile development and to plug a gap in U.S. missile defenses.

The issue is shaping up to be one of the most contentious at Wednesday's House Armed Services Committee markup, where Democrats are planning multiple amendments to try to strip out $100 million that was included to jump-start the East Coast site. 

The Republican proposal calls for the East Coast site, which would be the third in the country, to be operational by the beginning of 2016.

Democrats contend the total cost would be $4 billion. Republicans counter that the price tag would be half of that amount.

"This is a political move," said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who intends to introduce an amendment Wednesday to strip the provision from the defense authorization bill. "Every time the election comes around, the Republicans run out a national security agenda."

It is unclear where the Obama administration stands on the matter. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress slammed Obama on missile defense after his "hot mic" moment in March, in which Obama told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he needed "flexibility" until after the Nov. 6 election. 

Republican legislators have also criticized the Obama administration for considering reductions in the U.S. nuclear stockpile. 

But GOP lawmakers say the site is not about politics, and is necessary due to increased threats from Iran, as tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated in recent months over Iran's nuclear program. 

"You cannot open a newspaper or turn on a TV ... without seeing a story of the rising threat from Iran and North Korea to mainland United States," said Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee that included the East Coast interceptor language.

"With these emerging threats it is inevitable that an East Coast site will be necessary in order to ensure we have the ability to lessen the threats from both Iran and North Korea," Turner told The Hill.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) weighed in on the threat to Iran on Tuesday as well, warning that Tehran has "global ambitions" in Latin America, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently toured.

"[Ahmadinejad's] trip underscored the designs Iran has for expanding its influence in Latin America, and its eagerness to forge bonds with governments in the Western Hemisphere that have demonstrated a lesser interest in freedom and democracy," Boehner said at an event Tuesday held by the Conference of the Americas.

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