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Senate votes unanimously to move ahead with defense bill

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to move ahead with the stalled defense spending bill, setting aside objections in order to address legislation made even more crucial by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The $345 billion bill would authorize spending for the Defense Department and the military efforts of the Energy Department for fiscal 2002, which began Monday.

The vote to cut off debate required the approval of 60 senators. Instead, it got all 100, pushed well over the top when dozens of Republicans trooped in from a meeting in the office of Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

One of the objections had been raised by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who was insisting on attaching the Bush administration's energy package to the defense bill. Even Inhofe voted to move on, saying, ``There is nobody on this floor who wants to have a defense authorization bill more than I do.''

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said before the vote that he feared supporters of that energy package, and opponents of the base closings called for by the bill, would kill the defense bill.

``That would be a horrendous message to send'' to the military and the nation, said Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Congress was risking the bipartisan comity that has marked its efforts since the attacks.

``I'm worried that in a few minutes, the Senate may undo all that good work of the past three weeks, and bring an end to the bipartisan cooperation that has distinguished this instititution, and give the public a reason to be ashamed of us,'' McCain said, calling the defense bill ``the most important legislation we will pass since Sept. 11.''

The House passed its version of the bill by a vote of 398-17 on Sept. 25.

Even though most work on the bill was stymied, senators on Monday did approve an amendment boosting assistance to firefighters, many of whom played heroic roles in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

``Today, these departments are being asked to become, essentially, soldiers,'' said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., contending it was appropriate to include the money in the defense bill. His amendment would increase last year's $100 million in grants to $600 million in fiscal 2002, $800 million next year and $1 billion in 2004.

``When terrorists target civilian populations on American soil, we are going to need our rescue services to be as well-equipped as they possible can be,'' Dodd said. ``This is a national security issue.''

The amendment was approved by voice vote.
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