- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A handful of Republicans upset that a missile defense program was cut from a proposed $504 billion defense authorization bill last night infused some tension into what had been an unusually bipartisan effort.

Republican Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Trent Franks of Arizona and Todd Tiahrt of Kansas said that removing the program from the bill poses a serious security threat to the United States.

Still, the House is expected to pass the bill, which has received wide bipartisan support. The House begins debate today on the Iraq war funding guidelines for fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1.

“This is a good bill,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “This committee once again addressed the wide range of important national security activities undertaken by the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy in a productive, bipartisan manner.”

The conservative Blue Dog Democrats were pleased that Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, incorporated a proposal that calls for greater transparency in how Iraq war funds are spent by requiring the Government Accountability Office to report every six months on the handling of contracts in Iraq.

“Accountability is no longer optional for the federal government,” said Blue Dog member Rep. Mike Thompson, California Democrat. “Americans deserve to know where their tax dollars are going, and Iraq and Afghanistan are no exception.”

The National Defense Authorization Act would approve $504 billion for the Defense Department and the Energy Department’s national security programs. The bill also provides $141.8 billion to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during fiscal 2008.

The Armed Services Committee approved the bill last week by a vote of 58-0.

“I think [Armed Services] is the most bipartisan committee in the House,” Mr. Skelton said. “But I can’t remember the past time a bill passed [committee] unanimously.”

The bill provides for such items as 161 Stryker armored vehicles for $1.5 billion, 52 Black Hawk helicopters for $771 million and 20 F-22 fighter jets for $3.2 billion.

The bill also authorizes $1 billion for National Guard equipment and $250 million to address training shortfalls throughout the Defense Department.

Although applauded by lawmakers from both parties, the bill passed by the Armed Services Committee is likely to differ in its final version. The Rules Committee yesterday was wading through more than 125 amendments to the measure.

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