- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

Senate Republicans yesterday ensured that the nation’s efforts to improve missile defense will continue to be a priority.

The Senate passed several amendments yesterday to the $447 billion fiscal 2005 Defense Department spending authorization bill with little fanfare. With the exception of one assault attempt on the Bush tax cuts, most of the debate centered on how the country would move forward in conducting tests for missile-defense systems, beefing up the size of the military and increasing military benefits.

A final vote on the defense bill is expected Wednesday.

An amendment by Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, requires the secretary of defense to develop criteria for real-life operational missile tests by Feb. 1, with the testing to begin no later than Oct. 1, 2005. The amendment also calls for the Pentagon to deliver a base price for the program to Congress.

“Mr. Warner is removing the customary way we test defense through independent testers. He wants the secretary of defense and the Pentagon to conduct and review the test,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, whose amendment was replaced by Mr. Warner’s.

The Warner amendment says the Pentagon will be responsible for conducting and reviewing operational tests on its own missile defense without an independent analysis.

“I don’t think we can make this timeline … we don’t want to curtail missile defense; we just want independent evaluation,” Mr. Reed said.

But Mr. Reed was able to persuade senators in a 93-4 vote to boost the number of troops from 482,400 to 502,400 by the end of 2005, contrary to Bush administration requests. Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska co-sponsored the legislation.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, however, objected, saying there must be an increase in funding for training, housing and technology in order to beef up troop strength. He said the Air Force has 17,000 more pilots than it needs who could transfer to other branches where necessary.

“The problems we’ve been having in Iraq are a direct result of not having enough boots on the ground after the end of formal combat,” Mr. McCain said, objecting to Mr. Sessions’ comments. “The dirty little secret as to why the civilian administration over the military was so reluctant to deploy more troops is because we didn’t have them.”

Mr. Sessions, however, was victorious, by voice vote, in getting his amendment to have the federal government pay military life insurance to match any soldier’s private insurance up to $100,000 in the event of the soldier’s death.

“I can’t say how strongly I believe that we should do right by our soldiers,” Mr. Sessions said.

Two Democratic amendments were dismissed by the majority.

An amendment to curtail deployment of a new missile defense until it can pass real-life tests was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. It was defeated 57-42, with five Democrats voting against it.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware failed to convince Republicans that his amendment to increase the top line of the Bush tax cuts for five years going to the top 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans from 35 percent to 36 percent was necessary to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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