WASHINGTON – Within minutes of one another Thursday, the House and Senate made major steps toward the completion of a defense spending bill that President Bush had requested Congress put at the top of its agenda.
In the first of 13 appropriations measures to be completed by the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1, the House voted 413-18 on a $355 billion defense spending bill that defunded the controversial Crusader artillery weapons program, provides most of the funding the president requested for a national missile defense development program and called for a military pay raise of 4.1 percent.
The Senate approved 97-2 a $393 billion bill that creates a framework for spending, but doesn't yet lay out the cash. The Senate will likely vote on the defense spending layouts following the July 4 holiday.
The Senate bill calls for $50 billion more to fund the Defense Department and defense-related agencies in other departments, and approves the 4.1 percent raise for military personnel along with incentive pay for hard-to-fill jobs.
Trying to boost the number of enlisted troops, the Senate also approved a measure to up by 1 percent, or 12,000, the number of soldiers, but did not say from where the $500 million to pay for it would come.
Included in the Senate authorization is $10 billion for a contingency fund requested by President Bush to use at his discretion in the war on terrorism. The House did not approve the contingency fund.
Neither bill contains funding the president requested as a supplemental emergency spending measure to fund the ongoing war on terror.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the bills weren't exactly what the administration had requested.
"It is not exactly what we requested so until I have a chance to look at what the implications might be, and to the extent that it has things that we think are unfortunate, needless to say we'll be talking with the House and Senate conferees about this because there is still time to make changes," Rumsfeld said.
In line with the president's request, the House bill eliminates funding for the $11 billion Crusader artillery system that the administration has sought to kill because it is too heavy and immobile. But under protest from Oklahoma and Minnesota congressmen whose districts contained defense contractors that were working on the Crusader, the House agreed to provide $648 million for new artillery systems that can be produced in those areas.
It also includes $4.7 billion to buy 23 F-22s and continue developing the stealth fighter, which is slated to replace aging F-15s. However, it includes language that says until the Pentagon shows that it is staying on its testing schedule, only 16 of the jets can be produced.
Of major disappointment to Rumsfeld was a decision by the Republican-led House to provide $7.4 billion, $74 million less than the president wanted, for missile defense testing. The Democratic-controlled Senate also removed nearly $1 billion from the president's request.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, both sponsored approved measures that would ban research and development of nuclear-armed interceptors. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., was successful in adding a provision that requires the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency to file reports on the progress of the program.
The Senate agreed Wednesday to language that would put the $800 million back into the program if the president decides to use extra cash for missile defense rather than fighting terrorism.
The compromise did not satisfy the Pentagon. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a House hearing Thursday that the Senate restrictions were unacceptable and would "severely delay" efforts to build a missile defense system that launches defensive missiles against incoming long-range missiles.
Rumsfeld made the administration's position even more apparent.
"There would very likely be a veto in the event that the Crusader was in the bill and missile defense was not," Rumsfeld said.
The administration last month officially withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which bans missile defense systems, and immediately began work on a rudimentary system in Alaska.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.