Safety of troops at forefront of $512-billion defense bill

Passed on a 396-31 vote, the measure includes a plan to spend $50-billion for the first part of next year's war costs.

Published May 12, 2006

WASHINGTON - The House on Thursday approved a $512.9-billion military bill that addresses a host of concerns arising from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from combating makeshift roadside bombs to equipping more vehicles and troops with armor.

Passed on a 396-31 vote, the measure includes a plan to spend $50-billion for the first part of next year's war costs.

"The theme of the bill this year was troop protection," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman. "It gives the tools to the troops in the war on terror that they need."

Even though many voted for the bill, Democrats said they were angry that Republican leaders prevented the House from debating some amendments, and they used procedural maneuvers to delay work on the bill for a few hours in protest.

In a statement, the Bush administration praised the House for supporting the fight against terrorism but indicated significant concerns with several provisions, including proposals to increase the size of the armed forces and give the military a higher pay raise than the administration sought.

Overall, the bill sets Defense Department policies and plans spending for the military for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. Actual money will be provided in separate legislation later this year.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved its version of the bill. It also envisions $50-billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If approved, the measure would push to over $400-billion the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars and global efforts against terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Like the Senate measure, the House bill would allow the Pentagon to spend millions of dollars more than what Bush requested to continue developing countermeasures for roadside bombs - a primary cause of U.S. troop deaths. Congress wants a Pentagon task force working on the issue to speed up its efforts.

The House bill plans $109.7-million for jamming devices that detect roadside bombs and prevent their explosion. It also plans $100-million for at least 10 surveillance aircraft to patrol roads where the bombs are prevalent.

Additionally, the bill would let the services spend far more money than Bush sought to continue putting armor on Humvees and providing body armor for troops.

House lawmakers also want to give survivors of slain civilian Defense Department employees a $100,000 death benefit that's currently available to families of service members killed in combat zones since Oct. 7, 2001. The administration opposes that plan.

It also objects to House plans for a 2.7 percent pay raise for military personnel, which is 0.5 percent above Bush's request.