Big Boost in Defense Spending Awaits Presidential Signature
WASHINGTON – The largest of the 13 budget bills negotiated by Congress won final approval Thursday, clearing the way for a presidential signature by next week.
The 382-40 vote in the House, followed by a 96-2 vote in the Senate provides $343.3 billion in defense spending for pay raises, anti-terrorism funding, and missile defense testing, to begin with renewed fervor after President Bush announced his intentnion to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia that prohibited such testing.
The $33 billion increase over 2001 spending, up 10.6 percent, provides cash for the Defense Department and for military efforts of the Energy Department for fiscal year 2002, which began Oct. 2. The Defense Department has been operating under last year's budget constraints awaiting passage of the bill.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., said the bill achieves the goal of "protecting the welfare of our fighting men and women during at this time of crisis and providing the president and secretary of defense the needed tools to accomplish their difficult mission."
Stump, however, opposed base closings supported by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who argued that closings beginning in 2003 could save $3 billion or more per year to be redirected toward other military activities. The Senate approved the plan, but House lawmakers doubted the projected savings and argued the bases should remain open while the nation is at war.
Ultimately, leaders of the House Armed Services Committee came up with a compromise moving the first round of closings back to 2005, when the war against terrorism might be over.
A nine-member board approved by the president in consultation with congressional leaders would vote on facilities proposed by the defense secretary to be closed.
Seven members would be required to add a facility to the list, but a simple majority is needed to remove one. Neither Congress nor the president could make changes to the list, but the president can approve or reject the recommendations.
Four prior base closings beginning in 1988 led to the realignment of 451 installations, including 97 major ones.
The bill "represents the ultimate compromise because it has something in it to disappoint virtually everyone involved," Stump said.
Asked if the compromise is acceptable, Rumsfeld responded, "I will have to sleep on that."
The bill does contain something to please everyone, including a minimum 5 percent across-the-board pay raise, new housing benefits, more help with moving expenses, and a big boost in construction spending that will go to improvements in family housing.
Bush would get his full $8.3 billion request for missile defense research and development, a $3.1 billion increase over 2001. Of the total, the president could use $1.3 billion for anti-terrorism efforts instead if he wants.
The bill includes another $7 billion for anti-terrorism spending, a $1 billion increase from 2001.
Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, noted that the bill also focuses on homeland security, with $2.7 billion to train and equipment local first responders.
As the administration requested, the negotiators canceled the January referendum in Vieques on future use of that Puerto Rican island for military training. Bush is halting maneuvers there by 2003.
The bill would bar the Navy secretary from closing Vieques until he and the top military leaders of the Navy and Marine Corps certify a site or sites providing "equivalent or superior" levels of training will be available.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.