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Congress Preparing Defense Budget for Remainder of 2008


Two top U.S. Defense Department officials have testified before a Congressional committee in charge of military spending. The committee grilled the officials about progress in Iraq and the status of America's military jets. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Right now U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan do not have enough money from Congress to keep fighting for the rest of the year. But Florida Republican Bill Young and others promise to fix that next month. Mr. Young says, "The hardware that you need, the equipment that you need, the training facilities that you need -- we are going to do that."

But getting cash from the government is seldom so easy, especially when a divided Congess holds the purse strings [money].

Democratic Congressman James Moran wanted proof of progress in Iraq. "The surge [increased troops] has quelled the violence, but the real question is: has it achieved the political reconciliation that does constitute the victory that we are looking for? I don't see it," he said.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, agreed it is not a military victory, but he pointed out recent political successes, starting with a law allowing former Baath Party Sunnis back into the government. "They recently passed the de-Baathification law that will go into effect in a month. This morning, I was told the national government passed the amnesty law, their budget, as well as a provincial powers act. That to me, is a lot of progress nationally, given the challenges they have and the competition at that level," he said.

Iraqi lawmakers approved the $48 billion budget after weeks of delays and threats to dissolve parliament over the deadlock.

Several representatives wanted to know about the U.S. fighter fleet -- specifically the time it takes to develop these jets -- five years for the F-15, up to 19 for the F-22 and an uncertain number for the still unfinished Joint Strike Fighter.

Committee Chairman John Murtha also questioned the price tag. He says,"The maintenance costs for the F-15 have gone up 236 percent. The flying hour costs have gone up 87 percent. And the man hours per depot maintenance per airplane have gone up 800 [percent]."

Democratic Committee member Norman Dicks asked Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England about aircraft reliability. "Aren't you concerned about this aging aircraft issue?"

England responded, "In the case of the Air Force having an aging fighter fleet, but on the other hand, we spent $65 million and we have 183 F-22s. At some point, we have to decide not to buy the very costly, high end airplane and buy the quantity."

England testified in place of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates canceled his appearance after slipping on icy pavement and fracturing his shoulder.

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