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US Senate Passes Defense Spending Bill - 2003-07-18


The U.S. Senate has approved a $367 billion defense spending bill for the next budget year. Democrats used debate on the bill to challenge President Bush on Iraq.

Although the measure passed unanimously, Democrats criticized the package because it does not include funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush is expected to seek that funding in a separate request.

Democrats accuse the administration of not being forthcoming with American taxpayers on the cost of the occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, which defense officials say amounts to nearly $5 billion a month.

"This is not an acceptable way to pay for our overseas missions," said Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. "This is a blatant attempt to mislead the American people about administration policies that are leading to fiscal disaster."

Democrats used three days of debate on the measure to press for inquiries into pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs and for further internationalizing the U.S.-led occupation. But their efforts were defeated by majority Republicans.

Among the Democratic amendments rejected was one sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois that would have withheld $50 million in intelligence funding until Mr. Bush submitted a report on how the White House handled intelligence on Iraq's weapons.

Mr. Durbin, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet, during a closed hearing Wednesday, named a White House official who insisted on including questionable information on Iraq's nuclear ambitions in the President Sate of Union address in January.

"The president has within his ranks on his staff, some person who was willing to spin and hype and exaggerate and cut corners on the most speech the president delivers in any given year," said Mr. Durbin.

The statement, which Mr. Bush used in part to make the case for war, was later disavowed by the United Nation's atomic watchdog agency. The statement said Iraq had sought uranium from Africa.

Another Democrat, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, said the uncertainty surrounding that statement raises questions about the rest of the administration's case for war.

That prompted an angry outcry from Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who recalled the Kurdish victims of a brutal attack by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1987.

"Perhaps the senators should tell the family of the Kurdish woman and her child that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, and that we were wrong to liberate his oppressed people," he said. "They will not be so sanguine as these senators because she and hundreds of her fellow villagers were murdered in a gas attack by Saddam Hussein."

The funding in the bill represents a one percent increase in defense spending over the current year, but is $3 billion less than what Mr. Bush requested.

The Senate bill will have to be reconciled with a similar House measure passed last week before final legislation is sent to President Bush for his signature.