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Congress finds compromise on $368-billion defense bill

By Associated Press
Published September 26, 2003

WASHINGTON - Congress unanimously approved a compromise $368-billion defense bill for next year, underscoring that despite differences over President Bush's Iraq policies, there is a bipartisan consensus on the military's role in the fight against global terrorism.

The Senate gave the measure final approval by 95-0, a day after the House passed the measure by 407-15.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the "peace budget on defense" - it does not include money for Iraq - was a "demonstration of our support, of Congress' support, of our men and women in uniform."

The House and Senate also voted to keep federal agencies open next month, despite the failure of the Republican-run Congress to finish most of its routine spending bills on time.

With neither party interested in a standoff that might have led to a government shutdown, the measure passed the House by 407-8. The Senate followed by voice vote.

Congress is supposed to complete its 13 annual bills financing agency budgets by the Oct. 1 start of the new federal budget year. That rarely happens, and this year Congress is likely to have sent only three of the bills to Bush on time.

The House-passed bill would keep agencies running through Oct. 31, giving House-Senate bargainers more time to work.

It also contains several minor provisions, such as allowing a $550-million, 12-year loan to the Czech Republic for its purchase of 14 used F-16 aircraft. And it has an accounting gimmick allowing the expenditure of $2.2-billion more for federal education programs than congressional budget limits would have permitted.

The defense bill does not provide money for the Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns, being considered separately.

It provides $98.5-billion for military personnel, with an average 4.1 percent pay raise. It includes $9.1-billion for a missile defense system, up $1.4-billion from this year, and $11.5-billion for shipbuilding, up $2.4-billion.

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