- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002


The House overwhelmingly approved a compromise $355.4 billion defense bill yesterday brimming with money for new destroyers, helicopters and missiles and granting President Bush most of the Pentagon buildup he requested after last year's terrorist attacks.

While the day's spotlight shone on the congressional debate over authorizing Mr. Bush to use force against Iraq, the defense-spending package one-sixth of the entire federal budget underlined the bipartisan consensus behind beefing up the military.

Quick Senate approval also was expected, and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Mr. Bush looks forward to signing the measure into law because it will "ensure that we provide our troops in the field with the resources they need to fight terrorism and defend freedom."

The bill's 409-14 passage, less than four weeks before congressional elections, also reflected a desire by Democrats to head off campaign-season accusations by Mr. Bush that they had delayed a measure urgently needed in the U.S. effort against terrorism.

Most of Congress' budget work has been stalled because Mr. Bush wants to spend less than what Democrats and even some Republicans want.

The bill's popularity was also a tribute to the billions it would spend from coast to coast for weapons and other equipment. Included was $3.3 billion for 15 Air Force C-17 transport aircraft $586 million more than Mr. Bush requested which the Boeing Co. has been building in Long Beach, Calif.; and $270 million for 19 Army Black Hawk helicopters seven more than Mr. Bush sought built by the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. of Stratford, Conn.

As lawmakers sorted through a pile of legislation in hopes of recessing soon for the elections, the House also approved a $10.5 billion military-construction bill, 419-0.

Also on tap were a measure to help state and local governments revamp their voting systems, and a bill keeping federal agencies open temporarily until Mr. Bush and Congress resolve their spending battle.

For now, all was colored by the Nov. 5 elections, when control of the House and Senate for the next two years will be decided.

The defense bill, for the federal budget year that started Oct. 1, represents a $34 billion, or 11 percent, increase over last year. Mr. Bush sought $367 billion, but ran into bipartisan distaste for his proposal for a $10 billion fund he could tap without congressional input for combating terrorists overseas.

From weapons procurement and research to the costs of training troops, virtually every category of Pentagon spending is being beefed up. Included in the bill was money for a 4.1 percent pay raise for military personnel, for two more Aegis destroyers and a new attack submarine, and nearly all of the $7.4 billion Mr. Bush requested to keep developing a national missile-defense system.

Following a deal struck earlier this year, the bill would follow Mr. Bush's lead and scuttle the Army's high-technology Crusader artillery program and provide $369 million to develop alternatives.

In one of the few notes of discord, Democrats complained that House-Senate bargainers had dropped a Senate-approved provision barring U.S. companies that move to overseas tax havens from winning Pentagon contracts.

In other work:

•The House approved a military-construction bill that would spend $800 million more than Mr. Bush wanted. Items added by lawmakers included $15 million for a community center at Fort Richardson, Alaska, and $10.5 million for bachelors' quarters at Pascagoula Naval Station in Mississippi.

•Leaders were fashioning a bill keeping agencies from shutting down until legislation financing them for the new fiscal year is completed. Republicans want the measure to run through Nov. 22, giving Congress time to complete its spending work during a post-election session. Democrats want a shorter extension so they could use pre-election sessions to discuss the economy.

•In a response to the disputed 2000 presidential election in Florida, the House planned to debate a compromise bill that would provide $3.8 billion over three years for local governments to buy upgraded voting equipment.

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