Senate Passes $447 Billion Defense Bill

The Senate passed a massive defense spending bill (search) that, at $447 billion, still only covers a fraction of war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The vote Wednesday night capped weeks of wrangling over missile defense (search), the Iraqi prisoner abuse (search) scandal and numerous other proposed amendments.

The bill, which now must be reconciled with a similar House bill passed a month ago, includes a military pay raise, an increase in the size of the Army and billions of dollars for weapons systems.

Lawmakers voted 97-0 shortly before midnight on the bill, which authorizes Pentagon and Energy Department defense programs for the budget year that begins in October.

The measure includes $25 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Bush administration plans to submit a supplemental budget at the start of the next calendar year, after November's election, that is expected to seek at least an additional $25 billion for the two ongoing military campaigns.

Defying the White House and Pentagon, senators also included a provision to add 20,000 troops to an Army stretched thin by the war in Iraq, the global war on terror and other commitments around the world.

Lawmakers have for months heard complaints from families of service men and women who have served repeated deployments or been forced to remain on duty after their obligation has ended under a Pentagon device called "stop-loss."

The Senate bill would increase the Army by about 4 percent, to 502,400. The House version would add 30,000 Army soldiers and 9,000 Marines over three years.

The House also would delay for two years the next round of military base closures (search), set to take place next year. But, generally, the Senate authorization bill mirrors the House version, for instance also including an across-the-board 3.5 percent pay raise for military personnel and higher danger pay.

It authorizes $10.2 billion for a missile defense system and billions more for such programs as the F/A-22 Raptor aircraft, Joint Strike Fighter and DD(X) destroyer program.

Senators passed an amendment earlier Wednesday requiring President Bush to report to the Republican-controlled Congress on his efforts to stabilize Iraq. But they rejected one that would have forced him to give an estimate of how many American troops will remain in the violence-plagued country a year from now.

Drawing out the deliberations Wednesday was a heated debate over the growing Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, as Democrats pushed for an amendment requiring the administration to hand over memos on prisoner treatment and interrogations.

In the end, Republicans defeated a measure that would have declared all U.S. officials bound by anti-torture laws and required Pentagon reports on interrogation techniques, the number of detainees denied POW status, Red Cross findings on U.S. military prisons and a schedule for trying terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Republican-controlled chamber also rejected:

—A plan to extend prescription drug and health services to all veterans that lawmakers said would have cost $300 billion over 10 years.

—A proposal that National Guard and reservists become eligible for retirement benefits at age 55 instead of 60.

—A proposal to limit the growth of U.S. military and civilian contractors helping Colombia fight its drug war. Opponents said the full increase from 400 to 800 troops and 400 to 600 civilians was needed to keep up progress in the war, which also fights narco-terrorism.

While Wednesday's action authorized the defense programs, senators now must approve an appropriations bill to actually give the administration the money.

The House on Tuesday approved a $417 billion defense appropriations bill covering only the Defense Department programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a similar $416 billion defense spending measure.