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Congress Considers Over $400 Billion for 2005 Military Spending - 2004-05-19

Congress is considering legislation that would authorize more than $400 billion in defense spending for 2005, including $25 billion in additional money for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of the year.

The bills in the House and Senate would authorize similar amounts, about $422 billion, for spending by the Pentagon and other government departments.

There are some differences between the two versions, but one major issue is the desire of many lawmakers to establish guidelines on how $25 billion requested by President Bush for Iraq and Afghanistan will be spent.

The Bush Administration did not provide specifics, and many Democrats and Republicans demand such additional clarity. The House bill contains line-by-line details about how funds should be spent, while some in the Senate want to amend its version with similar language.

Amid concern about strains on the U.S. military, the House legislation would require increasing the size of the Army and Marines over the next three years by a total of about 39,000 soldiers.

The Senate bill authorizes such an increase, but does not require it. This too may change, as one Senate Democrat vowed, with support from some key Republicans, to offer an amendment adding 30,000 soldiers to the Army.

The Defense Department opposes congressional moves requiring an expansion, saying it has been able to meet needs through existing methods of force realignments.

House Democrats complained Wednesday that majority Republicans blocked thorough debate, and prevented Democratic amendments, including one calling for $67 billion for Iraq operations.

"We should discuss the cost of the war in Iraq, the cost of the war in Afghanistan, the role of contractors is a serious role that has arisen recently and that needs to be discussed on the floor of this House," said Congressman Ike Skelton, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. "The Iraqi prisoner detainee abuse which has flooded the world news media, needs to be talked about from both sides of the [political] aisle."

Despite his misgivings, Congressman Skelton supports the legislation, particularly its action to expand the size of the military.

The Republican chairman of the committee, Congressman Duncan Hunter, says the bill adequately supports U.S. troops. "In all the things that those folks need, those 135,000 plus folks in Iraq, and thousands in the Afghanistan [military] theater who are out there fighting right now, braving enemy fire, increasingly oppressive heat, difficult living conditions, and they're doing that for us, and they're doing that all as volunteers, and it is our job to give them what they need to get the job done," he said. "That is what we do in this bill."

House and Senate bills also provide money for anti-missile programs and further studies on so-called "bunker buster" tactical nuclear weapons. Some Democrats wanted to take money from these areas, for homeland security and other purposes. The House version delays until 2007 scheduled closings of military bases in the United States.

Although there were differences on aspects of the legislation, there is strong bi-partisan backing in the Senate, and in the House where the bill was earlier approved unanimously at the committee level.

While serious differences exist over the conduct of operations in Iraq, and planning for the transition to Iraqi sovereignty after June 30, Democrats and Republicans want to be seen as fully supportive of the military.

House legislation provides for about $1.5 billion for improved vehicle and body armor for troops.

Final House and Senate legislation will have to reconciled before a final defense authorization measure can be sent to President Bush for his signature.