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US CONGRESS APPROVES $355.1BN DEFENSE BUDGET

16 Oct 02. The Senate gave final congressional approval on Wednesday to a $355.1bn military spending bill that gives the Pentagon a nearly $40bn boost as it prepares for possible war with Iraq.

Voting 93-1, the Democratic-led Senate followed action by the Republican-led House of Representatives last week, sending the largest-ever defense budget bill to President George W. Bush, who sought the military build-up for the war on terrorism.

Despite its $37.5bn increase for the Pentagon — the biggest since the Cold War — the fiscal 2003 spending bill agreed to by House and Senate negotiators is $1.6bn less than Bush wanted.

Bush also wanted an additional $10bn contingency fund for unforeseen war costs, but lawmakers denied that in this bill. They said that could be included in a supplemental measure that Congress would have to approve to fund a war to disarm and possibly oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that analysts say could cost more than $100bn.

Bush, in a written statement, said he looked forward to signing the bill, which he said “will provide our troops with the best pay, the best equipment and the best possible training. It also sends an important signal that we are committed to defending freedom and defeating terror.” Since Congress last week backed the possible use of U.S. force against Iraq, Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, said it is “imperative we pass this bill before we recess to ensure our forces have the support they require to carry out whatever missions our nation asks them to do.”

The defense spending bill and a $10.5bn military construction bill may be the only pieces of the $2tn federal budget that Congress approves before recessing in the next several days ahead of Nov. 5 congressional elections.

Since the Oct. 1 start of this fiscal year, the government has operated on week-to-week bills that keep federal agencies at fiscal 2002 levels. Congress likely will return after the election — when control of both chambers could have tipped — to try to complete the budget that has snarled amid partisan conflicts and Bush’s demand that non-defense spending be held to tight limits.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, called the military budget bill “a very important achievement,” but complained that “the bad new is there’s an awful lot of things we should have done weeks or months ago that have not been done and now probably will not be done.”

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, cast the only vote against the
defense bill.

It provides $7.4bn to develop a national missile defense system, $43m less than Bush wanted but well above levels pushed by Senate Democrats who questioned whether such a system could work and said it diverted money from protections against other weapons that pose more immediate threats from rogue nations. The bill also funds a 4.1 percent pay raise for all U.S. military personnel, backs the Pentagon’s controversial cancellation of the $11bn Crusader howitzer program, and lays the legal groundwork for Boeing Co (NYSE:BA – News) to lease 100 767-jetliners to the Air Force to serve as in-flight refueling tankers to replace its aging tanker fleet. In other hardware, the bill provides $3.3 billion to buy 15 C-17 transport aircraft, $3.2bn for 46 Navy F/A-18 fighters, $4 billion for 23 F-22 fighters, $3.5bn for continued development of the multi-service Joint Strike Fighter, $915m to continue development of the Army’s Comanche helicopters, and $788 million to buy Strykers for the Army. It provides $9bn for shipbuilding — $842m more than Bush sought — including $2.3bn for two AEGIS destroyers, $1.5bn for a Virginia-class attack submarine and $1.3bn to pay for cost overruns on ships funded in earlier budgets.

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