The House of Representatives has approved $368 billion in spending for defense, including more money for unmanned aircraft for use in the war on terror. The legislation has wide bipartisan support, but Democrats generally are continuing to criticize the Bush administration on the defense budget and on military planning in Iraq.
The bill contains $3 billion less than President George W. Bush's request for the 2004 fiscal year beginning in October. But overall, it is an increase of $4 billion over last year.
It includes more money for U.S. special operations forces, used with great effect in the war against al-Qaida and Taleban government forces in Afghanistan, and in Iraq.
Regular U.S. forces receive money for new Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
The bill includes $200 million above last year's levels for unmanned aerial vehicles. This includes funding for 16 of the Predator aircraft used in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as against specific al-Qaida terrorist targets, and four larger Global Hawk aircraft.
The legislation also continues funding for Ballistic Missile Defense, a controversial multi-year program whose supporters say is needed to protect the United States against possible attack by so-called "rogue states" such as North Korea.
Opponents of missile defense, such as Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, say it will be ineffective against terrorists using more conventional means to attack Americans. "National missile defense would offer no protection against such an attack," said Mr. Kucinich. "And because we waste so much money on this system, we leave our homeland security system under-funded and unable to protect from real threats."
The $368 billion appropriations bill is in addition to $62 billion the Pentagon received as part of an emergency spending package Congress approved this past April to pay for initial costs of the war in Iraq.
House and Senate conferees will meet in coming weeks to iron out differences between respective defense funding measures.
Preparations, meanwhile, are underway for hearings on the question of intelligence information used by the Bush administration to justify the war in Iraq.
The House Intelligence Committee is expected to hold public hearings, after closed sessions dealing with classified information. Similar hearings are expected on the Senate side.
Lawmakers will also hear this week from the Bush administration about the military situation in Iraq, amid rising congressional concern about continuing attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
"Our troops are over-stretched, morale is low, and the situation within Iraq is getting worse by the day," said Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, on the House floor Tuesday. "This administration must- it must re-address the situation and give our troops peacekeeping training that they need. In addition, efforts to reach out to the international community for assistance must be enhanced."
The former head of the U.S. Central Command, General Tommy Franks, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, are scheduled to testify before a Senate committee on Wednesday, with General Franks appearing at a similar House hearing on Thursday.