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Senate OKs $369 Billion in Defense Spending

The Senate's unanimous approval of a $368.6 billion defense spending bill demonstrated that despite Democrats' criticism of President Bush's handling of Iraq, they still are inclined to defer to his military spending requests.

Democrats used three days of debate to press unsuccessfully for investigations of the Bush administration's handling of prewar intelligence that would have gone beyond the reviews under way in the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., also accused Bush of "trying to look and sound like a Grade B movie cowboy" for taunting Iraqi fighters with his "bring them on" comment earlier this month.

Johnson, whose son served in Iraq, said that if Bush's daughters were serving there, "he'd have thought twice before goading Iraqi guerrilla war fighters to take another shot" at American soldiers.

But in the end, Democrats joined with Republicans in a 95-0 vote Thursday that granted most of the funding for sophisticated fighters, helicopters and other equipment sought by the Pentagon.

Among the programs funded would be the Army's new Stryker Brigade (search), a highly mobile force built around an agile wheeled vehicle; nine V-22 Osprey (search) hybrid aircrafts that can take off and land like a helicopter, but have had a troubled testing period; and 22 F-22 stealth fighters.

The bill also includes an average military pay raise of 4.15 percent.

The bill is $3.1 billion below Bush's budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, and represents a Defense Department budget increase of slightly more than 1 percent. That percentage doesn't take into account a $62.4 billion emergency spending bill passed this spring to cover the cost of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congress is expected to make up the $3.1 billion later.

The defense bill does not include the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the new fiscal year. Bush is likely to request that money in a separate bill.

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and a main opponent of the war, said the administration was trying to mislead Americans about the war's cost at a time of a rising deficit.

But Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said when Bush's budget request was completed in January - before the war - it would have been impossible to know how much money would be needed in October.

"Every single war has been financed the way this president is trying to finance this war," he said.

Stevens, though, supported a nonbinding Byrd amendment that said the administration should fund overseas commitments like Iraq through the regular budget process, instead of in separate spending bills. The amendment passed 81-15.

For the second day, the Republican majority defeated a Democratic move to expand reviews of the handling of Iraq intelligence. By a 62-34 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois that would have withheld $50 million for intelligence programs until Bush submits a report on how the White House handled the prewar intelligence.

Durbin, an Intelligence Committee member, said closed-door testimony by CIA Director George Tenet (search) on Wednesday made clear that the White House pressured the CIA to allow discredited intelligence on Iraq's nuclear program to be included in the president's State of the Union address in January.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Durbin's characterization was "nonsense" and a government official attending Wednesday's meeting said it was another official, not Tenet, who discussed the exchanges with the White House. The White House had not insisted on including the language, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

On Wednesday, the Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., for an independent investigation of the Iraq intelligence.

The Senate voted 71-24 to defeat a Byrd amendment that would have transferred $1.1 billion from defense spending to increase funding for global HIV-AIDS prevention and treatment. Democrats say Bush's call for $1.9 billion in AIDS funding this year isn't fulfilling his commitment for $15 billion over five years.

The bill also would eliminate money for the Pentagon's computerized terrorism surveillance program known as the Terrorism Information Awareness (search) program, which has raised privacy concerns.

The bill will have to be reconciled with the version passed by the House last week.