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Chambers pass defense bill versions

By Associated Press,
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 23, 2003

WASHINGTON - The Senate and House on Thursday passed their own versions of a $400.5-billion defense spending plan for 2004 that would increase money for homeland security, development of new weapons and benefits for the troops.

Legislation in both bills includes more than $70-billion for weapons purchases and $9.1-billion for a missile defense system. The measures offer an average 4.1 percent pay raise for military personnel and new money to stop terrorism and the spread of biological and chemical weapons.

The Senate vote was 98-1 with Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the only dissenter; the House vote was 361-68.

"America's military team has performed brilliantly for us. Now it is time for us to perform for them," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said.

There was wide support for the 4.7 percent increase over what Congress approved last year. Much of the debate was on such issues as exempting military bases from environmental protection laws, reorganizing civilian workers at the Pentagon and researching new, low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. House Democrats complained that they were barred from offering amendments on some of these issues.

The White House lauded Congress for its aggressive support, but in a statement voiced strong opposition to language in the House bill that would restrict the next round of military base closings, set for 2005.

Before sending the legislation to the president, the House and Senate must reconcile their bills, which set the framework for the 2004 budget year spending bills to be taken up later this year.

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