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House, Senate Approve Defense Bills - 2002-06-27

The two chambers of the Congress Thursday passed separate defense bills for the next fiscal year beginning October first. The House approved (by a 413 to 18 vote) a $355 billion military spending bill, while the Senate endorsed (by a 97 to two vote) a measure authorizing defense programs.

The House-passed defense spending bill includes nearly all the $7.6 billion that President Bush requested for a missile defense program. The measure, which awaits Senate action, also includes a pay raise for military personnel.

The Republican-led House also agreed to eliminate funding for the $11 billion Crusader artillery system that the administration wants to end because it is too heavy and immobile.

The bill passed by the Senate maps out defense spending policy. The Democratic-controlled chamber passed the bill after reaching a compromise on funding for President Bush's national missile defense system.

Democrats sought to cut more than $800 million from the program and shift the funds to shipbuilding and security for nuclear facilities.

Majority Leader Tom Daschle argued that terrorism poses a greater threat to the United States than a missile attack. "I think we can all agree that terrorism is a threat that confronts us here and now," he said. "Therefore, I hope my colleagues will make fighting terrorism their first priority."

But the ranking Republican on the Armed Service Committee, Senator John Warner, argued that opposing the president's request would send the wrong message to U.S. adversaries at a time when the country is leading a war on terrorism.

"With our nation at war, we need to demonstrate consensus and support at this time," he said. "Now is not the time to send a signal that we are lessening our resolve to defend this nation from all known threats. I repeat, all known and recognized threats."

Under the compromise, lawmakers agreed to give Mr. Bush the authority to restore full funding for the missile defense project. But, they argued, the extra funds should go toward the fight against terrorism.

Mr. Bush wants to construct a missile shield to protect the United States from possible missile attack from so-called rogue nations, including North Korea and Iran. Mr. Bush withdrew the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that banned missile defense systems.

The Senate bill includes amendments that would ban research and development of nuclear-armed interceptors for missile defense systems.

The bill also calls on the armed services to hire another 12,000 personnel. Lawmakers say U.S. forces are seriously over-deployed in the war on terrorism.

The House has already passed its version of the legislation, and negotiators from both chambers must resolve differences in the two measures before a final bill is sent to President Bush for his signature.