WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate committee has voted to block funds for relocating 8,600 U.S. Marines to Guam from Japan's Okinawa island and other moves involving forces in East Asia because the plans are "incredibly expensive," the panel's chairman said on Friday.
The move by the Senate Armed Services committee would also block plans to send families to live with U.S. service members deployed in South Korea, Carl Levin told reporters.
"We are not withdrawing our presence, or reducing our presence" in the region, Levin said in a telephone call. "We are trying to streamline it when it comes to the planned relocations ... so that we do this in a way which is honest and sustainable."
The provisions were contained in a $683 billion defense policy bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday evening. It must still pass the full Senate and be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives before it can become law.
"The current plans for maintaining our troops there (Okinawa, Guam and South Korea) are unsustainable. They are incredibly expensive," Levin said. He added that the costs are "out of sight."
The legislation would ban funding for shifting U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam until the Pentagon submits a master plan detailing construction costs, based on the Marines' preferred disposition of forces.
The move to Guam is part of a broader 2006 accord to reorganize U.S. troops in Japan, including relocation of the Marines' Futenma air base on Okinawa to a quieter part of the island.
The Senate legislation also requires the Pentagon to study moving some of the Marines' aviation assets at Futenma to an existing U.S. air base at Kadena in Japan, rather than building a new facility.
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, recently estimated that more than $27 billion would be required to realign the U.S. military bases on Okinawa and Guam.
The Futenma base has long been a source of tension for Japanese residents, and controversy over it led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatayama last year.
The Senate legislation would bar outlays to relocate thousands of families to live with U.S. service members in South Korea until the military justifies the cost and examines the alternatives. The United States has 28,000 troops in South Korea.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Eric Walsh)