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US House, Senate Pass $400B Defense Spending Bills

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have each passed their own versions of a $400 billion defense spending bill that would develop new weapons, increase funding for homeland security and benefits for American troops.

Both versions include more than $70 billion for weapons purchases and $9 billion for a missile defense system, as a well as funds for a four percent pay raise for military personnel. The bills both include $450 million to dismantle and destroy weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union.

The Senate measure would lift a decade-old ban on research and development of a new class of low-yield nuclear weapons that the administration argues is necessary to counter new threats. The House bill would allow research on such weapons, but keep the moratorium on development.

The Senate passed its version on a 98 to one vote. The only dissenter, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said the legislation is something the country could ill afford. "Budget deficits are soaring, soaring out of control, while our economy is in the doldrums. Instead of saving money by skipping a generation of military weapons, we are sending our country even deeper into debt," he said.

But the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia, argued the nation could not afford to do without such legislation. "It's what this bill is about, the need to have ever change in technology to afford even greater protection to the men and women in the armed forces as we face the uncertain and uncharted and unknown threats that face us here in this century," he said.

The House overwhelmingly passed its bill on a 361 to 68 vote.

Differences in the House and Senate versions will have to be reconciled before a final bill is sent to President Bush for his signature.