Sat, Jul 24, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US bolsters its wartime budget

SPENDING A new defense bill cuts funds for NASA, environment and science programs while making US$25 billion available for use in Iraq and Afghanistan


The Pentagon would get an additional US$25 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 7 percent more for the rest of its programs in a US$417.5 billion defense bill Congress overwhelmingly approved.

With money for 39 more Army Black Hawk helicopters, a Virginia-class attack submarine and a 3.5 percent pay raise for the troops, the measure illustrated strong wartime support for the military, crossing party lines.

Eager to affirm their backing less than four months from election day, the Senate approved the measure 96-0 and the House ship-ped it to US President George W. Bush by 410-12. The votes came just hours before Congress was to start a six-week summer recess.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said the bill showed Congress' support for "the men and women in uniform who risk their lives for our country each day."

In a statement on Thursday night, Bush said he looked forward to signing the bill.

"Our troops will have what they need to do their jobs, and I am pleased that a bipartisan majority in the Congress continues to stand with me to support our military," Bush said.

It was the first of the 13 spending bills financing the government for next year that the Republican-run House and Senate sent to the White House.

With record federal deficits prompting the Republicans to try reining in most domestic spending, numerous disputes make completion of most of the other measures unlikely until after the government's budget year starts Oct. 1.

The House approved a US$10 billion military construction mea-sure by 420-1. First, as expected, it dropped an expansion of a housing program for soldiers' families that conservatives said broke budget limits. The Senate has not yet voted on its version.

The House Appropriations Committee passed a US$90 billion bill financing the Transportation and Treasury departments after voting 42-16 to give civilian federal workers the same 3.5 percent raise as members of the military. Bush recommended a 1.5 percent increase for civilians.

The same House panel approved US$92.9 billion for veterans, housing and space programs after fighting off separate efforts by Democrats and conservative Republicans to increase veterans health-care spending.

The bill cuts funds for space agency NASA, environment and science programs and increases veterans health care to US$30.3 billion -- still US$1.3 billion less than veterans' groups want. By voice vote, lawmakers added more than 1,100 home-district projects to the measure, including US$250,000 for Banning, California, to build a municipal pool and US$900,000 for work on the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The US$25 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan represented a victory for Congress over Bush, who began the year insisting no extra funds would be needed until after the elections.

Under pressure from lawmakers, he requested the money in May, saying he would not need to spend it until autumn. He proposed being able to move the money among Pentagon accounts as he wished.

Instead, the war money will be available when Bush signs the measure into law. He will only be able to shift US$2 billion without Congress' permission.

The US$25 billion is likely to be less than half what will be needed next year. On Wednesday, congressional auditors estimated the Pentagon will need another US$12.3 billion for the wars to make it through September.

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