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Archive for Friday, July 18, 2003

Senate approves $368 billion defense bill

July 18, 2003

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— The Senate approved a $368.6 billion defense spending bill Thursday after Republicans beat back a new Democratic push for an examination of how the White House handled intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs.

The bill is $3.1 billion below Bush's budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, and represents a Defense Department budget increase of slightly more than 1 percent. That does not count a $62.4 billion emergency spending bill passed earlier this year to cover the cost of war in Iraq.

Congress is expected to make up the $3.1 billion in separate legislation.

The bill largely meets President Bush's budget request and the 95-0 vote showed Democratic reluctance to challenge his defense priorities.

But Democrats used three days of debate to press unsuccessfully for investigations of the administration's handling of prewar intelligence that go beyond the reviews under way by the House and Senate intelligence committees.

The Senate defeated 62-34 an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to withhold $50 million in intelligence funding until President Bush submits a report about how the White House handled the intelligence.

Appropriations Committee chairman, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, accused Democrats of "nitpicking" on a single error in the speech.

"The history shows clearly that Iraq has tried to acquire and did acquire nuclear capability in the past," he said.

The defeat of Durbin's amendment came a day after the Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., for an independent investigation of the Iraq intelligence.

The defense bill does not include the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the new fiscal year. Bush is likely to request that money in a separate bill.

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and a main opponent of the war, criticized the administration for not including "one thin dime in the budget" for Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the administration was trying to mislead Americans about the war's cost at a time of rising deficits.

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