WASHINGTON – The House approved modest changes to President Bush's record Pentagon budget proposal early Sunday, but Democrats signaled plans to resume a more contentious debate over the Iraq war after the August recess.
The House's $459.6 billion version of the defense budget, approved on a 395-13 vote, would add money for equipment for the National Guard and Reserve, provide for 12,000 additional soldiers and Marines, and increase spending for defense health care and military housing.
The adjourned until after Labor Day minutes after the vote a little over an hour past midnight.
The White House criticized Democrats for cutting Bush's request and effectively transfering $3.5 billion of the money to domestic spending programs. It is likely the cuts will be restored this fall when Congress passes another wartime supplemental spending bill.
The administration has not threatened to veto the measure.
The measure does not include Bush's 2008 funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats say they want to consider that money in separate legislation in September. This approach would set the stage for a major clash over the war; Democrats are likely to try to impose conditions on the money.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a point man on military matters for Democrats, told reporters this past week that he backs only short-term extensions of war spending.
The massive military measure represents a nearly $40 billion increase over current levels. The Pentagon would get another several-billion-dollar budget increase through a companion measure covering military base construction and a recent round of base closures.
The defense legislation largely endorses Bush's plans for major weapons systems such as the next generation Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which has been beset by cost overruns.
The Democratic military budget would provide $8.5 billion for missile defense, about 4 percent less than requested by Bush but $1 billion more than current spending.
The Army's Future Combat System, a computerized system designed to transform the service's warfighting abilities, would absorb an 11 percent cut from Bush's request. It, too, has been plagued by cost overruns.
Those huge procurement costs are driving the Pentagon budget ever upward. Once war costs are added in, the total defense budget will be significantly higher than during the typical Cold War year, even after adjusting for inflation.
The measure would eliminate the $468 million requested to procure the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, whose per-unit cost has more than doubled. The helicopter recently crashed during test flights.
The bill would provide $2.2 billion to cover a 3.5 percent pay raise for service members. The administration objects and says its recommended 3 percent pay increase is sufficient.
The bill would boost substantially the money spent to oversee military contractors, including $24 million for the inspector general.
The measure provides money to build five ships — with a total cost of $3.7 billion — in addition to the seven requested by the Pentagon.
Murtha had prepared amendments to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and require troops be fully trained and equipped before going to fight in Iraq. But facing the prospects of losing votes and inflaming partisan tensions, he withdrew them.
The bill contains a provision barring the establishment of permanent bases in Iraq.