WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate panel voted on Thursday to authorize $525.8 billion in defense spending for the 2013 fiscal year, blocking President Barack Obama's proposed Air Force cuts while reducing Pentagon civilian personnel to stay within the president's budget limits.
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a defense policy bill that would authorize a base Pentagon budget of $525.8 billion along with $88.2 billion for the Afghanistan war and other overseas operations. The panel also authorized $17.3 billion for Energy Department nuclear weapons programs.
The measure - the National Defense Authorization Act - is expected to go to the full Senate in June at the earliest. After passage there it would have to be reconciled with the version approved last week by the republican-controlled House of Representatives before going to Obama for his signature.
"We're within the president's budget, $631.4 billion, unlike the House of Representatives, which is about $4 billion over the president's budget request," said Carl Levin, the chairman of the Democratic-controlled panel.
Levin said the panel had rejected most of the portion of the president's budget that called for reductions in the Air Force and Air National Guard. But the committee did permit elimination of some transport aircraft, he said.
The Air Force had sought to eliminate seven tactical air squadrons and 130 transport aircraft, along with 11,600 personnel as part of the Pentagon's efforts to cut $487 billion in projected spending over the next decade as ordered by Congress last year.
The measure approved by the panel, which included 150 changes from the president's budget request, also would block increases in fees for the Tricare healthcare system for military retirees. And it would block closure of the Abrams tank production line of General Dynamics, moving to keep it open with funding for upgrading vehicles.
To offset some of the increased costs, the bill orders the Pentagon to cut civilian personnel and service contractor funding by 5 percent over five years, which would save about $5 billion, said Senator John McCain, the committee's top Republican.
(Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)