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U.S. COMMITTEE NEARS COMPLETION OF DEFENSE BUDGET

U.S. ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE NEARS COMPLETION OF DEFENSE BUDGET

14 May 03. The U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee neared completion of a $400bn defense budget for the 2004 fiscal year on Tuesday that gives the Pentagon most of the weapons it wanted, including $9.1bn in funding for missile defense.

Committee members worked until midnight on Tuesday on the complicated bill but talks mired down in battles over base closures, nuclear weapons and even abortion, before the panel adjourned for the night. Work resumes Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday, the committee will tackle a Pentagon request for more leeway in complying with federal endangered species laws, and a bid by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to reshape the rules governing some 750,000
civilian Pentagon employees.

Facing a possible presidential veto, the panel voted just before midnight Tuesday to gut a provision approved May 9 by a key subcommittee that would have repealed a law passed in 2002 requiring more base closures in 2005.Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, said he also had concerns about base closures but warned the committee would lose its control of the Pentagon budget — and its relevance — if the bill was vetoed.

Rumsfeld warned members in a letter that he would recommend President George W. Bush veto the bill if the committee stuck to the repeal. He said closing bases offered a chance to trim costs at a time when budgets were tight, given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The panel approved $1.8bn in spending beyond the Pentagon request, including $182m for an extra C-17 plane and $229m for the Air Force to upgrade its KC-135 tankers or get ready to lease Boeing 767 tankers. It approved the lion’s share of Bush’s request for 22 F/A-22 “Raptor” next-generation fighter jets, but trimmed its $5.17bn funding by $161m. The cut equaled cost savings negotiated by the Air Force and Lockheed Martin and would not reduce the number of planes.

The committee also put a hold on $136m in F/A-22 funding until the Air Force could prove it had made certain software improvements to the fighter. If it fails to do that, the Air Force will only be able to buy 21 F/A-22s in 2004.

The panel approved a $9.1bn request to continue work on a multilayered defense system against ballistic missile attacks.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week approved a $400.5bn defense bill. The full Senate and House must approve the measures, which then are rolled into a final bill to go to Bush. The bill authorizes Pentagon programs but money is appropriated in a later bill.

CAUTION ON NUCLEAR WEAPONS

The committee approved on a voice vote an amendment which paves the way for research on low-yield nuclear weapons but bans any work on engineering or production of such weapons. Members rejected an amendment that would have moved funds for research on nuclear bunker buster weapons to conventional weapons, as well as a measure that would have required Bush to notify Congress if he intended to resume nuclear testing. In other work, the committee cut the Pentagon’s $28bn request for information technology spending by $2bn.The committee also said it would withhold $300m from the Army’s request for $955m for a fourth brigade of Striker medium-weight combat vehicles, built by General Dynamics Corp. (NYSE:GD – News) until lawmakers reviewed an Army report on how to make the Stryker brigades more lethal and solve lingering transport issues.

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