Congress ships Bush $417 billion for defense

Friday, July 23rd 2004, 6:12 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Congress used overwhelming votes to ship President Bush a $417.5 billion measure for defense in a day that highlighted lawmakers' bipartisan approach to the military _ and their divisions over many domestic programs.

The Senate approved the Pentagon spending bill 96-0 and the House followed suit by 410-12. The legislation included $25 billion for the next few months of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and a 7 percent boost for other defense programs.

The ongoing wars and the approaching November elections made the one-sided votes inevitable. Also easing passage were home-district projects, including $4.5 million for research, equipment and construction that Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., claimed for his upstate New York district, and $1.9 million for the Presidio park in San Francisco, hometown of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

``Our generation's time of national trial has come, and we're being called to stop a new kind of enemy,'' said Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C. ``Now more than ever, we must improve our national security.''

The bill is the first of the 13 annual spending bills for the government's next budget year _ which starts Oct. 1 _ to clear the Republican-led Congress. Lawmakers were eager to pass it before going into their six-week recess, which began Friday.

``Our troops will have what they need to do their jobs, and I am pleased that a bipartisan majority in the Congress continues to stand with me to support our military,'' Bush said of the measure in a written statement.

But lawmakers' summer break was beginning with the rest of the spending bills a long way from finished.

Those measures have been rocked by fights over everything from spending for schools to aid to Saudi Arabia. With a backdrop of record federal deficits that have prompted the GOP to try reining domestic spending, legislators will face decisions about those measures when they return in September.

In other budget work Thursday,

_ The House approved a $10 billion military construction measure by 420-1. First, as expected, it dropped an expansion of a housing program for soldiers' families that conservatives said broke budget limits. The Senate has not yet approved its version.

_ The House Appropriations Committee passed a $90 billion bill financing the Transportation and Treasury departments after voting 42-16 to give civilian federal workers the same 3.5 percent raise the military received. Bush recommended a 1.5 percent increase for civilians.

_ The same House panel approved a $92.9 billion bill that cuts funds for NASA, environment and science programs while increasing veterans' health care to $30.3 billion _ still $1.3 billion less than veterans' groups want. It rejected separate efforts by Democrats and conservative Republicans to add money for veterans.

On that same bill, lawmakers used a voice vote to add more than 1,100 home-district projects to the measure. That included $150,000 to renovate the Sterling Opera House in Derby, Conn., and $75,000 for the Texas Cowboy Reunion Old-Timers Association to upgrade a bunkhouse in Stamford, Texas.

The defense bill's $25 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan represented a victory for Congress over Bush, who began the year insisting no extra funds would be needed until after the elections.

Under pressure from lawmakers, he requested the money in May, saying he would not need to spend it until autumn. He proposed being able to move the money among Pentagon accounts as he wished.

Instead, the war money will be available when Bush signs the measure into law. He will only be able to shift $2 billion without Congress' permission.

``The administration has fallen down on the job in budgeting for these wars, and its budget projections simply are not to be trusted,'' said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

Administration officials say they expect to have enough money through September by moving money among accounts.

The war funds include money for body armor, reinforced Humvee vehicles and $500 million to train the new armies of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The overall bill has $1.6 billion less than Bush requested for the Pentagon but nearly $25 billion over this year's total, excluding money for Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has nearly $78 billion for weapons purchases, $3 billion more than Bush requested. Included is more money for Air Force unmanned Predator aerial attack vehicles, Stryker combat vehicles for the Army and a DD(X) destroyer.

There is $10 billion for continued work on a national missile defense system. And there is $100 million for the Air Force to modernize its fleet of midair refueling tankers _ though House language was dropped requiring 80 of the craft to be purchased from the ailing Boeing Co.

Included were several non-defense items, including $500 million for fighting wildfires, $95 million to help victims of warfare in Sudan and $685 million for U.S. diplomats' activities in Iraq, including their security.