- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

The House passed a $504 billion defense bill yesterday that preserves more than $1 billion for missile-defense programs that Democrats had threatened to cut.

The bill also includes an amendment that requires detainees at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who have been scheduled for release be set free by the end of the year, despite the threat of a presidential veto.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which the House approved by a vote of 397-27, provides $141.8 billion to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for all of fiscal 2008, the first time Congress has authorized funding the two military theaters for a full year since 2001.

“This is a strong bill — it’s one of the finest bills passed in the House in a long while,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, who as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee was the bill’s primary sponsor.

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate of its version of the bill later this month or in early June.

The House rejected an amendment by Democratic Reps. Rush D. Holt of New Jersey and John F. Tierney of Massachusetts to strip $1.1 billion from $8.1 billion in Missile Defense Agency programs.

By defeating the measure, the House preserved funding for the development of a missile-tracking satellite system called the Space Tracking and Surveillance System. It also left money untouched for the development of systems in which aircraft can shoot down missiles from the air, a program to develop warheads to destroy multiple missiles, and a Europe-based missile-defense system.

The proposed cuts were opposed by several Republicans, who said they would’ve posed a serious threat to national security.

A Republican proposal to add $764 million to the total amount authorized for ballistic missile defense was rejected.

The House also approved a last-minute measure proposed by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, for U.S. work with Israel to develop missile-defense technology for the Middle East nation.

An amendment by Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, that requires the Defense Department to submit reports on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, was narrowly approved 220-208. It also requires that those detainees scheduled for release are set free by Dec. 31.

An earlier version of Mr. Moran’s bill had called for the closing of the detention facility.

Earlier this week, the White House warned lawmakers not to “micromanage” the treatment of Guantanamo detainees, saying any bill that blocked the administration from detaining people it has designated as “enemy combatants” could provoke a veto.

Proponents of the bill say it gives a much needed boost of money and equipment to a military that has been engaged in overseas combat since 2001.

“The centerpiece of this defense bill is military readiness,” Mr. Skelton said. “Our nation has the finest military the world has ever seen, but after more than five years at war, our forces are feeling the strain of repeated deployments, and much of their equipment is worn out.”

The bill includes more than $4 billion for new vehicles designed to project against roadside bomb blast — 10 times the money requested by the Bush administration.

The measure also creates a $1 billion Strategic Readiness Fund to give the Defense Department the ability to rapidly address equipment shortfalls, and establishes an oversight board to help speed up the production of military equipment.

The House rejected a provision that would have required congressional approval before any military action could be taken in Iran also was defeated.

“You have an Iranian military and intelligence body which has decided to become involved in the war in Iraq,” Mr. Hunter said. “I think we have to let them know that we have license, as Americans, to take any actions that might be necessary to protect American troops.”

The House rejected an amendment by Mr. Holt, that would’ve required the videotaping of all interrogations of enemy combatants who have been arrested and detained.

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