Senate Panel Backs Pay Raises, Weapons Cuts in Defense Spending Bill

A Senate panel Tuesday endorsed a larger pay raise for military personnel than President Bush had recommended and made cuts in the president's request for several weapons programs.

The Senate defense appropriations subcommittee approved $459.6 billion in spending for fiscal 2008, about $3.5 billion less than the White House requested. Among the programs trimmed, chairman Daniel Inouye said in Friday's 11-minute meeting, were the Army's Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program, which is behind schedule, and the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship, whose costs have exceeded projections.

The Defense Department's military and civilian workers would receive a 3.5 percent pay raise in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Bush recommended a 3 percent hike.

The spending bill, similar to one passed by the House, must go to the full Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate floor before being reconciled with the House version. That is unlikely to happen by Oct. 1, lawmakers said, and a stopgap spending measure will likely be needed to keep the military funded for a time.

The appropriations bill does include money targeted for the war in Iraq, which will be handled in a supplemental spending bill that Bush will request this fall. Inouye, D-Hawaii, urged his colleagues not to use the fiscal 2008 spending bill as a vehicle to debate the Iraq war, and they complied.

The measure endorsed Tuesday would add nearly $950 million to Bush's request for the Defense Health Program, including an extra $486 million for military hospitals.

It adds $1 billion to the administration's request for new equipment for the National Guard and Reserves, which face "serious shortfalls," Inouye said.

The bill would add $470 million to a multiyear purchase plan of Virginia Class submarines, and fully fund the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey aircraft program. It would fully fund the Future Combat Systems, which Inouye called the Army's highest priority. It would buy 20 F-22 fighter planes and 12 Joint Strike Fighters.

The bill would reduce Bush's requested funding for a missile defense program by about $300 million, a sum approved earlier by the Senate's military policy-making committee, Inouye said.

He said the spending plan would "meet our priorities: ensuring readiness, protecting our forces and acquiring the critical equipment that our service men and women need and deserve."