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Congress Approves Defense Authorization Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed, by a 382 to 40 vote, a compromise defense authorization bill that will boost support for America's war on terrorism. The bill awaits Senate action before it is sent to President Bush for his signature.

The $343 billion measure is a compromise between House and Senate versions of the legislation.The funding for the current fiscal year that began October first is nearly 11 percent more than last year's funding level.

The House passed the measure despite reservations by many lawmakers about a provision calling for another round of military base closures.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has called for more base closings in 2003, saying the expected savings of $3 billion a year are needed for essential military activities. He has warned that President Bush would veto the bill if the provision were not included.

Although the Senate went along with the plan, many House members were opposed to shutting down bases while the United States is waging war on terrorism and dealing with an economic downturn.

But the House Armed Services Committee came up with a compromise, moving the round back to 2005.

Congressman Bob Stump, a Republican from Arizona, is Chairman of the Committee. "Over the strong reservation of many House members, including myself, we have agreed to authorize a round of base closures, but not until 2005," he said. "We have ensured that the next round will stay focused on the overriding objective of enhancing the military posture of the United States, and not blindly saving pennies or cutting political deals."

But Congressman Stump said that overall the bill is a good one, meeting the goal of protecting the welfare of U.S. military personnel.

Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, agreed. "This bill moves the military substantially toward new ways of fighting and helps the Army, Marine Corps move faster, increase the Air Force's qualitative edge," he said.

The bill fully funds President Bush's $8.3 billion request for missile defense research and development. The measure gives Mr. Bush some flexibility in that he could use $1.3 billion of the funds for anti terrorism efforts instead.

The legislation also includes up to a 10 percent pay raise for military personnel, the largest in two decades.