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US House of Representatives Approves Defense Authorization Measure


The U.S. House of Representatives has approved by a vote of 397 to 27 legislation authorizing about $644 billion for defense spending in 2008, including billions for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. VOA's Dan Robinson reports that in approving the measure setting overall spending policy for the Pentagon, lawmakers rejected proposals to restrict President Bush's ability to use funds to plan any possible future military actions against Iran.

The legislation authorizes about $142 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2008 fiscal year beginning October 1.

This contrasts with previous years when Congress approved spending in a series of separate emergency supplemental bills requested by President Bush, outside of the regular budget process.

Lawmakers want greater accountability, and are requiring a report in September on the situation in Iraq, including Iraqi government efforts at political reconciliation, by U.S. General David Petraeus and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

U.S.Defense Secretary Robert Gates will also have to report on a proposed force levels, missions and contingency planning.

House armed services committee chairman Ike Skelton:

"This information will help lawmakers as they ask tough questions and make frank judgments about how the U.S. will pass security responsibilities to Iraqis. I am convinced that the sectarian violence will only be overcome by Iraqi political progress and thus far I have not seen much evidence of that," he said.

The measure also extends the authority of the existing U.S. inspector general for Iraq, and requires more coordination between the Pentagon and State Department in overseeing thousands of contractors in Iraq.

In providing funds for Afghanistan, the House requires what is called a long-term sustainment plan aimed at ensuring that Afghan forces have logistical and other needs into the future, and authorizes a new special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction.

Lawmakers confronted a Bush administration veto threat over Democrat-crafted amendments that would have prohibited the use of funds for military action against Iran.

One sought to prevent the president from taking military action against Iran without specific authorization from Congress, unless there is an attack on the U.S. by Iran. Another would have prevented money being spent to plan a contingency operation in Iran.

House minority whip Roy Blunt explained why Republicans thought that was a bad idea.

"We expect the military to have an idea how they would react if unforeseen circumstances develop. This was a specific prohibition against having a plan, which was responded to by members in the way it should have been, which means it was easily defeated," he said.

Lawmakers approved a $764 million cut to the Bush administration's $10 billion missile defense program, a move Republicans say will cause delays, and set back plans for a missile defense site in Poland.

In a Senate hearing, General Bantz Craddock, the supreme allied commander in Europe, spoke about the impact.

"Indirectly, there may be some problems created with regard to perceptions of how serious we the United States are about this effort," he said.

At the same time, Republicans succeeded in adding language reaffirming the U.S. intention to work more closely with Israel on missile defense.

On another issue, the House narrowly approved a Democrat-backed amendment requiring the Bush administration to develop a plan to transfer detainees from the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Democrats say the defense measure, which also adds some 46,000 troops to the Army, Marines and National Guard, and funds needed equipment, is a major step forward in easing pressures on a military strained by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Senate has not yet passed its version of the defense authorization bill which will come up next week in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Both chambers must also approve separate legislation to actually appropriate defense spending for 2008.

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