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US House of Representatives Approves $400 Billion Defense Budget

The House of Representatives has approved $400 billion in defense spending for the current fiscal year. The legislation, an increase of $7 billion over previous spending levels, includes money for a range of military and defense needs, including higher pay, money for new aircraft and weaponry, as well as counter-terrorism efforts.

The House and the Senate approved their respective versions of the bill earlier this year, but both chambers must act on the final negotiated version, before it can go to President Bush for signature.

The legislation is separate from the $87.5 billion approved recently by the House and Senate to fund military and reconstruction needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The defense bill, 1,200 pages in length, funds a variety of items, most for purchases of new military equipment, upgrades, research and development and maintenance.

However, the legislation emphasizes spending required to enhance the ability of the various armed forces to fight the war on terrorism.

Citing their role in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bill gives U.S. Special Operations Forces money to acquire advanced technology equipment and weapons.

Half-a-billion dollars will be spent to give the military new equipment to detect chemical or biological weapons.

The ability of U.S. aircraft to re-fuel in flight will be enhanced by the acquisition of 100 new tanker aircraft, 80 of them purchased and 20 leased over the next 10 years.

Several billion dollars is provided to purchase new, or upgrade other aircraft, including B-1 and B-2 bombers, C-5A and C-17 transport planes, aerial surveillance planes, and jet fighters.

There is also money to upgrade tanks and other armored vehicles, purchase cruise missiles and special satellite-guided weapons (JDAMS), un-manned aerial vehicles, and two new naval attack submarines.

The bill repeals a 1993 congressional law prohibiting research and development of "low yield" nuclear weapons, and provides $15 million for studies into a "bunker-busting" weapon. But Congress would still have to specifically authorize actual development of such weapons.

Democrats objected to provisions they said would weaken the rights of civilians employed by the Defense Department. But most supported the bill, which passed overwhelmingly a few days before the annual holiday honoring the nation's military veterans.

Ike Skelton, senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said problems with the bill were out-weighed by what it provides for the troops. "A vote for this bill is a vote of confidence and appreciation for those who are wearing the uniform, and those families at home in whose prayers, those young soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, are," he said.

The bill also provides for $817 million as requested by the Bush administration for counter-drug activities. It extends existing authority of the Pentagon to use this money for anti-terrorist operations in Colombia.

The bill also provides about $450 million for continuing programs to dismantle, secure and eliminate weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union under a program called Cooperative Threat Reduction.

The Senate is expected to act next week on the defense authorization spending bill.