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24 June 2004

Congressional Report, June 24: $447 Billion Defense Bill Passes

Senate adds reporting requirement on military detainees

The U.S. Senate passed a $447.2 billion Defense Department spending bill June 24 after a month of debate and countless amendments.

The defense budget approved by the Senate on a 97-0 vote authorizes defense programs, but does not appropriate money for them. Legislation that will allocate money for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2005, which begins October 1, must still be considered. The House of Representatives approved its version of the defense authorization bill last month.

Added to the Senate bill was an amendment proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, which would require the Pentagon to report to Congress on the status of detainees being held in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere because they have been denied prisoner-of-war status as part of the war on terrorism. The Leahy amendment passed unanimously.

The defense bill includes $25 billion sought by President Bush for continuing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the administration is expected to submit a request for another $25 billion in supplemental funding for ongoing operations in those two countries sometime early in 2005.

The measure also includes nearly $70 billion for the development of new aircraft, ships and weapons systems. In addition, it includes $10.2 billion for the missile defense program, as well as additional research, but not development on concepts for two new nuclear weapons -- a low-yield small bomb and a high-yield bunker-buster bomb designed to destroy deep underground facilities.

Following the lead of the House, the Senate also added an amendment that would increase the number of Army troops by 20,000. Congress must approve any plan to add troops permanently beyond current limits. The House has approved adding 30,000 Army troops and 9,000 Marines over a three-year period.

Both the Senate and House included "Buy American" rules for the procurement of military materials, although the Senate requirement is less stringent.

The Senate- and House-passed measures must be reconciled before going to the president for signature.

This week the House approved a $417 billion defense appropriations bill that covers only the Defense Department programs, while the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar $416 billion defense spending measure. Both chambers of Congress are planning to begin debate on the defense appropriation bills before the July 4th recess.