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House Approves $368B Defense Bill

By KEN GUGGENHEIM
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP)--In approving a $368.7 billion defense spending bill, the House sought to make sure older weapons systems that have proven their value aren't prematurely discarded in the transition to a more mobile, high-tech fighting force.

The bill, for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, cuts some Pentagon requests for newer weapons systems in favor of continuing some older ones. It was approved 399-19 Thursday.

It represents an increase of about 1.3 percent over the amount approved for this fiscal year--not taking into account a $62.4 billion midyear spending bill that paid for the war in Iraq. The 2004 bill doesn't include the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which probably will be financed by another spending bill.

The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee approved a similar bill Tuesday with bipartisan support. Most details of that bill will be withheld until the full committee considers it Wednesday, but senators described it as supporting President Bush's defense spending priorities.

Both bills are about $3 billion below Bush's request. Lawmakers are expected eventually to make up this gap.

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said the House bill ``reflects very much the direction of the commander in chief as well as the Department of Defense regarding the war on terrorism that we are pursuing in the Middle East at this point but also recognizing its great threat around the world.''

Those priorities include Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's desire to transform the military into a sophisticated, lighter force able to mobilize quickly in response to crises around the world.

But the House Appropriations Committee, in a report accompanying the bill, warned against cutting existing programs too severely.

``Accelerating transformation by reducing current force structure to pay for future systems may undermine the readiness and capabilities of the forces we rely on today,'' it said.

The House bill includes $458 million not sought by the Bush administration for 144 upgraded Bradley fighting vehicles, 43 Abrams tanks and other equipment to modernize the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment.

The House included $11.5 billion for building ships, a $2.4 billion increase, including one Virginia-class submarine, the Navy's most advanced attack submarine. It rejected an administration request for authorization to buy seven of the submarines through 2008. Lawmakers have expressed frustration over the submarines' rising costs and delays.

The Senate subcommittee's bill would authorize five submarines through 2008, said Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. It does not include the heavy equipment for the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment.

The subcommittee also would provide the $9.1 billion sought by the Bush administration for missile defense. The House bill included $8.9 billion.

Both the House and Senate bills would cut $161 million from the administration's request for $3.7 billion for F/A-22 Raptor stealth fighter-bombers for the Air Force. The long-delayed Raptor, the Air Force's planned replacement for the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon, has been plagued by cost overruns and software problems.

The defense spending bill approved by the House also extends for another year Congress' ban on the use of any funds, without further specific consent of Congress, to implement the Pentagon's controversial Terrorism Information Awareness program domestically against U.S. citizens. The computer data-mining software being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is supposed to scan public and private databases of commercial transactions and personal data to provide advance warning of terrorist attacks.

Though the defense bill accounts for about one-sixth of federal spending, it has generated little debate. After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, lawmakers have been reluctant to deny the Pentagon the equipment it says it needs to defend the country.

But Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, an anti-war Democratic presidential candidate, said the bill does little to make America safer.

``The only thing this Congress will take care of today are the profit-gouging defense contractors,'' he said.

Separately, a House panel approved $27.1 billion for the nation's nuclear weapons and water and energy projects for next year. The Senate has yet to write its energy-water bill.

The bill would provide more than Bush wanted for nuclear waste disposal and energy research. It trims Bush's proposal for securing the nuclear stockpiles of Russia and other countries in what lawmakers called a protest over inefficiency, and cuts his request for maintaining the U.S. nuclear inventory.

___

The defense bill number is H.R. 2658; the energy-water bill has no number yet.

___

On the Net:

Bill text: http://thomas.loc.gov

AP-NY-07-09-03 1252EDT

Copyright 2003, The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP Online news report may not be published, broadcast or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

 

   


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