09 Oct 04. The US Congress on Saturday approved a $447 billion defense bill with a military pay raise and new money for Iraq and Afghanistan. Underscoring the bill’s lack of controversy, the House approved the measure by 359-14 and the Senate gave its blessing by voice vote. Neither chamber debated the legislation before sending it to President Bush.
The bill includes an across-the-board 3.5 percent pay raise for military personnel and expanded health care for reservists, as well as $25 billion to support operational costs for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation would overhaul the way sickened nuclear weapons industry workers are compensated and let South Carolina and Idaho store radioactive waste from Cold War bomb projects.
Also included is a provision that allows base closings to move forward and rejects pleas to delay the next round until 2007. The Bush administration had threatened to veto the entire bill if the base closures were delayed. There have been four previous rounds of base closings from 1988 to 1995, in each case over the objections of lawmakers concerned about economic losses a closure would bring to their districts. The Pentagon contends it still has more than 20 percent excess capacity and could save billions by closing unneeded facilities.
The Boeing Co. would lose the $23 billion deal it won last year to lease and sell aircraft refueling tankers to the Air Force. The measure would kill the leasing aspect of the tanker deal, but would allow the Air Force to buy 100 Boeing 767 planes for use as tankers. However, that purchase could occur only after several studies are completed.