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Senate approves 447b defense budget

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U.S. Senate Approves $447.2 Billion Defense Budget (Update1)
June 23 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate approved a $447.2 Defense Department authorization bill for the next fiscal year that preserves $13.9 billion for missile defense, raises military pay, and increases the active duty army by 20,000 troops.

The measure, which must be reconciled with a similar bill passed last month by the House, also includes a reminder to the U.S. military to respect the Geneva Convention's prohibition on torture of prisoners. It doesn't include a proposed provision creating a new penalty for ``war profiteering.''

The 97-0 vote followed two weeks of debate in which dozens of Democratic amendments failed, including the war profiteering proposal by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and efforts to trim missile defense spending. The $13.9 billion for missile defense includes $3.7 billion for a Boeing Co.-led project to place ground- based rocket interceptors in Alaska and $10.2 billion for development and deployment initiatives.

``We have a good bill,'' said Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republic who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, before the vote.

By a vote of 93 to 4, the Senate also approved an amendment by Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, that increases active-duty Army forces by as many as 20,000 troops -- the Army now has about 495,000 active-duty soldiers.

`Stretched Thin'

``They're stretched too thin, are badly overworked, and we're paying the price,'' said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said of U.S. military forces and the ongoing fighting in Iraq. McCain was a co-sponsor of the measure drafted by Reed.

The increased cost, an estimated $2 billion annually, will be paid for either in previous supplemental spending bills approved by Congress or future supplemental measures, sparing the Army from having to cut costs elsewhere, said Warner, who inserted this requirement into Reed's amendment.

The House last month approved a $447 billion fiscal 2005 defense bill that included a provision increasing troop levels by 39,000 by 2007.

The measure also provides for a 3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for military personnel.

Democrats had sought to limit spending on missile defense, a concept that was born during the administration of Ronald Reagan. One amendment would have used some missile defense money for programs intended to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and others would have made missile defense funding contingent on the system passing independent testing.

Ground-Based System

Components of the ground-based system being overseen by Boeing include a Northrop Grumman Corp. command and control system, Raytheon Co. radar and warheads, and booster rockets made by Orbital Sciences Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

The Pentagon estimates it will need $53 billion between now and 2009 on missile defense research, including land- and sea- based systems.

A U.S. General Accounting Office report released in April said the system lacked adequate testing and that its effectiveness ``will be largely unproven.''

``I don't want a make-believe system,'' said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who offered an amendment to block deployment of the system until it passed ``realistic'' and independent testing. ``I don't want a Wizard of Oz system.''

Currently, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is empowered to test and certify the system, which he advocates.

The Senate bill also provides $76 billion for military procurements in 2005, including $4.6 billion for Lockheed's Joint Strike Fighter warplane and $727.3 million to upgrade CH-47 Chinook helicopters made by Boeing.

Geneva Convention

The debate on the authorization and work on the pending defense appropriations bill coincide with ongoing Senate Armed Service Committee hearings on the abuses of Iraqi detainees, photos of which have sparked outrage around the world. The authorization bill requires the U.S. to abide by its own laws and treaties that it has signed. It also requires the Pentagon to create new anti-torture regulations and notify Congress of any violations.

The Senate voted down an amendment proposed by Senator Joseph Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, that would have raised income taxes 1 percent on taxpayers in the top tax bracket -- those making $320,000 or more -- to pay for continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure failed on a vote of 44 to 53.

The final Senate bill would allow the federal government to aid state and local authorities in prosecuting crimes based on a victims' race, religion, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

In a 65-33 vote, the Senate attached the hate crimes measure to the bill paying for defense programs and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The amendment would provide $10 million in grants over two years to help local governments pay for the prosecution of hate crimes.

`To the Rescue'

``When someone is being stoned in the public square, we should all come to the rescue,'' said Senator Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican who co-sponsored the legislation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's most recent figures showed that 7,462 such crimes were committed in 2002.

The measure is expected to face opposition in the House, which does not have a similar provision. Both chambers of Congress are controlled by Republicans.

The final Senate bill includes $25 billion to finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until Congress passes a more comprehensive spending measure early next year.

The House passed a similar measure May 20.

The Senate approved the $25 billion contingent on the Pentagon complying with checks and notifications intended to meet criticism that the funding request represented a ``blank check'' allowing expenditures with little documentation, said Michigan Senator Carl Levin, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

The reserve fund is needed to ``avoid some of the real problems which we would have had otherwise in spending next year's money this year, borrowing huge amounts of money, disrupting normal activities in the Army and the other services,'' said Levin said.

Following approval of the Senate and House authorization measures, both bodies must then pass defense appropriations bills to actually order the Treasury to distribute the money to the Defense Department.

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