Obama warns Senate on Guam funding cuts

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The Obama administration warned Thursday that a Senate bill proposing funding cuts next year for infrastructure projects on Guam could harm U.S.-Japan relations.

The proposed reduction of about $156 million would affect construction projects related to a 2006 agreement between Japan and the U.S. to transfer marines from the Futenma air base in Okinawa to Guam by 2014.

The bill would also require the Department of Defense to study moving Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to nearby Kadena Air Base, which is an air force base, rather than relocating to a replacement facility at Camp Schwab in northern Okinawa Island.

“The administration has serious concerns with the limitation on execution of the U.S. and Japanese government funds to implement the realignment of the marines from Okinawa to Guam. The bill would unnecessarily restrict the ability and flexibility of the president to execute our foreign and defense policies with our ally, Japan,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement. “Deferring or eliminating these projects could send the unintended message that the United States does not stand by its allies or its agreements.”

But the bill has the strong support of influential senators from both parties, including Democrats Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, and Jim Webb, chairman of a subcommittee on East Asia and a former marine who was stationed in Okinawa. Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain also backs it.

“The Defense Department’s current plans for Okinawa and Guam were developed years ago, in a different fiscal environment and are projected to cost billions of dollars more than anticipated. This bill prohibits the expenditure of funds for Marine Corps realignment from Okinawa to Guam until we receive an updated force lay-down and a master plan detailing construction costs and a schedule of all projects necessary to carry it out,” Levin said in a statement explaining the reason for the cuts.

Levin’s announcement and the White House response come during President Barack Obama’s visit to Asia and just a day after Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the U.S. would start deploying marines at a base in the northern Australian city of Darwin starting next year.