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Senate to Finish Defense Spending Bill

Senators on Wednesday debated missile defense costs, additional U.S. troops for Colombia's drug war and whether the Bush administration should release more information on the Iraq campaign, as they attempted to finish a defense spending bill (search) for the coming year.

But there were more than 30 pending amendments to the massive Pentagon authorization bill for fiscal year 2005 pending, and votes planned for the morning were delayed.

On Tuesday, senators rejected a proposal that would have taken money from President Bush's proposed missile defense budget for use on such tasks as securing "loose nukes" — nuclear bomb material around the world that could fall into the hands of terrorists — and policing America's ports and borders. The 56-44 vote defeated an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would have shifted $515 million from the $10.2 billion missile defense budget.

Meanwhile, the House on Tuesday approved a $417 billion defense spending bill that includes an initial $25 billion for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus billions of dollars for major weapons systems.

The 403-17 vote underscored an election-year, bipartisan consensus behind military spending that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have accentuated.

If anything, Democrats think Bush has requested too little for operations in the two countries in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and predict the $25 billion he requested for the latter months of this year will prove at least $50 billion too low.

"No doubt, after the election the public will be told what the facts are on the installment plan" about Iraq spending, said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis. Obey voted for the bill.

While Bush wanted to decide exactly how his requested $25 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan would be spent, the House limited his control to $1 billion of the money. The rest was assigned to 22 specific accounts, such as $674 million earmarked to provide armor for Humvee vehicles.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon, said the bill was "designed to meet the country's needs in an ever-shrinking and ever-complex world."

The measure also has money for the 3.5 percent military pay raise that Bush requested.

The Senate Appropriations Committee (search) approved a similar $416 billion defense spending measure with $25 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan that would give Bush slightly more control over the money than the House did.

Tuesday's major controversy occurred when House Republicans used a partyline vote to add language that would let Congress raise the government's borrowing limit later this year.