WASHINGTON – The Senate (search) and House on Thursday passed their own versions of a $400.5 billion defense spending plan for 2004 that would increase money for homeland security, development of new weapons and benefits for the troops.
Legislation in both bills includes more than $70 billion for weapons purchases and $9.1 billion for a missile defense system. The measures offer an average 4.1 percent pay raise for military personnel and new money to stop terrorism and the spread of biological and chemical weapons.
The Senate vote was 98-1 with Sen. Robert Byrd (search), D-W.Va., the only dissenter; the House vote was 361-68.
"America's military team has performed brilliantly for us. Now it is time for us to perform for them," House Armed Services Committee (search) Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said as the House opening debate.
There was wide support for the 4.7 percent increase over what Congress approved last year. Thus, much of the debate was on such issues as exempting military bases from environmental protection laws, reorganizing civilian workers at the Pentagon (search) and researching new, low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. House Democrats complained that they were barred from offering amendments on some of these issues.
The White House lauded Congress for its aggressive support, but in a statement voiced strong opposition to language in the House bill that would put some restrictions on the next round of military base closings that are set for 2005. House lawmakers, always resistant to the closing of bases in their districts, put in language requiring the military to retain enough facilities to support a military force bigger than today's.
Before sending the legislation to the president, the House and Senate must reconcile their bills, which set the framework for the 2004 budget year spending bills to be taken up later this year.
In what has become an annual issue of contention, the Senate voted 51-48 and the House 227-201 to defeat amendments allowing military women and dependents to use their own money to obtain abortions at military medical facilities overseas. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who sponsored the Senate amendment with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, argued that "military women are forced to sacrifice their own constitutional rights as they risk their lives to protect our freedom."
One opponent, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said "using the coercive power of government to force American taxpayers to fund health care facilities where abortions are performed would be, I think, a terrible precedent."
The House amendment was proposed by Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif.
In 1988, abortions were banned at military facilities overseas except when the life of the mother was in danger. That ban was lifted for two years at the beginning of the Clinton administration. It was reinstated by Congress in 1996, with exceptions for rape, incest and when the mother's life was endangered.
The House voted 226-199 to defeat an amendment by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., that would have taken $21 million from research on a new "bunker-busting" tactical nuclear weapon and other new low-yield nuclear weapons, and used the money to study conventional weapons capable of penetrating deeply buried targets.
"Until we have exhausted all conventional means to defeat hardened targets," she said, "it would be irresponsible for Congress to jump the gun and promote new uses for nuclear weapons."
Senate Democrats on Wednesday failed to retain a 1993 ban on the research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons. The administration says the ban will hinder the ability of U.S. scientists and engineers "to explore technical options to deter national security threats."
Instead, the Senate accepted language that requires congressional approval of programs to develop and produce such weapons.
The Senate bill has $181 million for developing chemical and biological weapon detection and protection technology; $88.4 million for 12 support teams to help first responders in the event of a chemical, biological or nuclear attack by terrorists; and $3.5 billion for 20 F/A-22 Raptor jets, which have been plagued by delays and cost overruns. That is two fewer jets than the administration had requested.
Both bills include $450 million to dismantle and eliminate weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union, an amount House Democrats said was insufficient.
The House has language requiring the defense secretary to set up a task force to address sexual harassment and violence at the military academies.