WASHINGTON – The Bush administration would win its fight to kill the $11 billion Crusader artillery system, and a search would begin for a less expensive weapon, under a plan a House committee debated Monday.
The language is a retreat by lawmakers facing veto threats by the White House, which considers the proposed 40-ton Crusader a Cold War relic too cumbersome for an Army now emphasizing mobility.
It also represents an effort to satisfy lawmakers from Oklahoma, Minnesota and other states where the Crusader has been tested and would have been produced. The provision would provide $648 million for work on artillery systems, $173 million more than President Bush initially sought for Crusader before deciding to terminate it.
The plan was part of a near $355 billion defense bill for next year that the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee seemed likely to approve. The measure contains about $2 billion less than President Bush wants, although Republicans say they will make that up from a $10 billion defense contingency fund that Bush proposed and that lawmakers say they will work on later.
Senators continued debating a separate bill outlining, but not financing, next year's defense programs. They planned a vote on language that would prevent U.S. servicewomen in Saudi Arabia from being required or encouraged to wear the Muslim-style head-to-toe robes.
Following the filing of a lawsuit by the Air Force's highest-ranking female fighter pilot, the Pentagon last January eased its 1991 Persian Gulf War policy that required servicewomen to wear the abaya when they left their bases. Now they are strongly encouraged to wear the face-covering robes.
The House, saying the policy change didn't go far enough, approved a similar provision last month.
In New Jersey, the president called again for Congress to complete its defense legislation rapidly.
"They don't need to delay the defense bill in a time of war," Bush said during a speech in New Jersey. "They need to deliberate like they're supposed to, and get it to my desk."
The Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee has not said when it will write its version of the defense bill. Congress is moving slowly on the 13 annual spending bills for the federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, and an autumn of confrontations seems likely among the House, Senate and Bush.
Besides addressing the fate of Crusader, the bill being debated by the House Appropriations Committee also would provide:
--$7.4 billion for continued work on a national missile defense, $74 million less than Bush requested. The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved an $800 million cut, which has prompted a veto threat.
--Enough money to finance the 4.1 percent military pay raise Bush proposed.
--$4.7 billion to buy 23 F-22's and continue developing the stealth fighters, which are supposed to replace aging F-15s. The Air Force wants 339 of them, but critics have questioned the need for them.
--$3.5 billion to continue work on the Joint Strike Fighter, a high-tech aircraft that Lockheed Martin is developing with U.S. allies.
The Appropriations Committee also planned to approve a $10.1 billion measure to finance next year's military construction projects. The popular bill, loaded with money for work from coast to coast and abroad, is about $500 million more than Bush proposed.
When combined with defense expenditures in next year's energy spending bill, Congress is expected to approve total military spending for 2003 to match Bush's request of $393 billion.