House approves defense bill; Senate version bogs down over amendments
WASHINGTON (AP) – The House overwhelmingly approved a $343 billion defense bill late Tuesday after diverting some money from President Bush’s prized missile defense program to counterterrorism efforts. But the Senate’s work got bogged down over objections by a couple of senators.
The 398-17 House vote followed bipartisan agreement to cut some funds from the missile defense program while boosting the money to fight terrorism by $400 million, for a total of about $6 billion.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Bob Stump, R-Ariz., called the extra anti-terrorism money ”an initial down payment until the president can better assess the long-term needs.”
President Bush praised the House action, calling it a ”vital step to ensure our nation’s security.”
Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, credited new bipartisan spirit in Congress since the terrorist attacks. He said expectations for a ”very spirited debate” over missile defense ended on Sept. 11, when both parties agreed ”the nation would not be served by a divisive debate.”
In the Senate, meanwhile, it appeared to be all against two Republican senators who were seeking to push measures that much of the Senate didn’t want included.
”We can’t continue to deliberate and to object and to delay,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said as he strode to the floor Tuesday night and ruled out more votes for the evening. ”I’ll be patient, but patience wears thin. We have a lot of work to do.”
Assistant Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill contains provisions that would help reservists and National Guard members now being called to duty.
”This bill is going to go down as a result of nothing to do with this bill?” he asked angrily, saying 98 percent of the Senate wants to move the bill.
The Senate stumbled over attempts by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to add the energy bill to the defense measure, and by Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, to let private contractors compete with prison industries for defense contracts.
Earlier in the day, the Senate endorsed Bush’s base-closings initiative, 53-47, as Democrats strongly opposed an effort to remove the provision from the defense bill.
The $343 billion measure, the total Bush requested, would authorize money for the military efforts of the Defense and Energy departments for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was a leading voice for the base-closing provision.
He said the vote would determine whether bases would be kept open even if they aren’t needed or ”whether we’re going to have … the most efficient military machine to fight this long, protracted struggle” against terrorism.
Before the authorization bill can become law, a House-Senate conference must resolve differences between the versions approved by each chamber. The House measure intentionally omits any mention of base closings.
On missile defense, Bush had sought $8.3 billion, a $3 billion increase over this year’s spending. The Senate agreed Friday to provide the full amount, but would let the president use $1.3 billion to combat terrorism instead. The House ultimately called for authorizing $7.9 billion for that effort.
Separately, the House rejected, 217-199, an amendment by Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., to enable a military woman deployed overseas to pay for abortion services at a military hospital.
In the Senate, Inhofe proposed, then withdrew, an amendment regarding the Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island, where the Navy has trained for decades. The amendment would have canceled a planned November referendum of Vieques residents on whether the Navy should stop training in 2003, when Bush has said it will, or stay and pay $50 million for public works projects. Inhofe acted as Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., planned to attach a requirement undermining his amendment.
The White House does not want the vote held. A House bill would call it off while requiring the Navy to keep using Vieques until an equivalent or better training site is found.
Regarding base closings, the Senate bill calls for one round in 2003. An independent panel would decide which bases would be affected, and Congress and the president could approve or reject the entire list.
Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged lawmakers to approve the round.
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