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Senate Gives OK to Defense Bill That Conflicts With the House's Version

The biggest areas of contention revolve around proposals to delay military base closings and increase the size of the Army.

June 24, 2004|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday approved a $447-billion defense bill, setting up a potential Republican-against-Republican battle over whether to increase the size of the military and close more bases.

The vote was 97-0. "I guess we landed another one," Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said as the Senate wrapped up weeks of debate on the measure.

The House approved its version of the authorization bill last month, and Tuesday approved a spending bill to pay for the programs. But although both chambers are Republican-controlled, the House defied a White House veto threat and in the authorization bill voted to delay the next round of military base closings, scheduled for next year. The Senate did not, ensuring that the closures will become an issue when negotiators meet to craft a final bill.

That is not the only potential intraparty fight. The Senate bill calls for permanently increasing the Army by 20,000 troops in one year. The House measure calls for an increase of 30,000 soldiers and 9,000 Marines by 2007. Army officials have expressed concern that a permanent increase in the number of soldiers could drain money from critical Pentagon programs, a position that is likely to be supported by the White House.

The Senate action came just a week before the U.S. transfer of sovereignty in Iraq to an interim government and was marked by intense debate over Bush's handling of the war and Democrats' demands for more documents from the administration on policies regarding interrogation and treatment of foreign prisoners.

The Republican majority on Wednesday defeated an effort by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a leading critic of the war, to call on Bush to give Congress an estimate of how many U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq next year.

They also succeeded in blocking an amendment ordering the administration to turn over more documents on the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. Democrats argued that the documents could shed light on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

"Is the Senate content to serve as an arm of the executive branch?" argued Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) accused Democrats of going on a "witch hunt" and trying to score "cheap political points." Cornyn's view prevailed, in a 50-46 vote.

Senators from both parties were eager to show their support for the troops. Both the House and Senate bills would authorize an additional $25 billion that the Pentagon is seeking to fund U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into early next year.

The Senate legislation is similar in many ways to the House bill, which would authorize roughly the same amount for Pentagon programs for fiscal year 2005, which begins Oct. 1.

Both bills would provide pay raises for the military, $10 billion for a missile defense program that has been a Bush priority, and funding for a new generation of nuclear weapons.

The Senate bill also includes measures that have nothing to do with defense, including one that is expected to end up in the final bill -- tougher fines for radio and TV broadcasters that violate federal indecency rules.

But a provision of the Senate bill that would strengthen federal hate crime laws -- growing in part out of the 1999 shooting attack on a Jewish community center in the San Fernando Valley -- is likely to face resistance from the House, which does not have the provision in its version.

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