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Ayotte, Shaheen praise passage of defense spending bill they helped craft

New Hampshire’s U.S. senators are praising the passage of a $662 billion defense spending bill, which includes a controversial provision that would mandate the military detention of suspected terrorists captured abroad and on U.S. soil.

Both Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen are members of the Armed Services Committee, and they played important roles in drafting the National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 93 to 7.

“In a divided Washington, this is an example of both parties working together well to come up with a very good bill that’s important to our national security and makes sure our military men and women have what they need,” Ayotte said.

Ayotte emphasized that the bill reflects several priorities for New Hampshire, including a study to address a $500 million modernization project backlog at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and at the nation’s three other public shipyards. The provision was also backed by Shaheen.

Ayotte also noted that the bill calls for a full audit of the Pentagon by Sept. 30, 2014, which she has promoted as way to rein in wasteful spending.

“This is a good tool to make sure taxpayer dollars are used wisely and to make good decisions that do not undermine our national security,” Ayotte said.

Shaheen also highlighted parts of the bill that she fought for, including, along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a cut of $400 million for the Medium Extended Air Defense System.

“The military has stated it has no intention to purchase MEADS in the future, and in this difficult economic climate, we can no longer afford to waste precious resources on programs that are unnecessary and under-performing,” Shaheen said on the floor of the Senate ahead of the vote.

Among the most controversial provisions of the spending bill was the requirement that people deemed terrorist suspects be detained without trial, including Americans arrested in this country.

Both Shaheen and Ayotte generally backed the policy; however, Shaheen had supported an amendment that would have required military custody only for terrorist suspects captured abroad.

“I believe our national security officials should have the flexibility needed to deal with a constantly evolving threat,” Shaheen said in her Senate floor speech. “But I also believe that clear, transparent rules of procedure are a bedrock legal principle of our constitutional system.”

The provision applies to any person suspected of aiding al-Qaida, the Taliban or an associated force, until “the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force” enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are declared over.

Ayotte said the policy is necessary to protect U.S. lives.

“If they’re not held in military custody, they have to be given their Miranda rights,” Ayotte said. “If you tell a terrorist that you have the right to remain silent, that counters our ability to gather intelligence and prevent future attacks.”

Reflecting civil liberties concerns, a last-minute amendment bill allows the secretary of defense to waive the detention requirement for U.S. citizens and legal residents arrested in this country.

The $662 billion spending bill is about $43 billion less than what the Pentagon received last year.

It still must be reconciled with a version passed by the House.