WASHINGTON (REUTERS) — The House of Representatives approved a $344 billion defense spending bill that shifts some missile defense funds into anti-terrorism programs after the terrorist attacks two weeks ago.
The quick bolster to the military authorizes defense spending for fiscal 2002, pouring more than $6 billion into anti-terrorism programs as well as improving military pay, health care, housing and other quality-of-life
The bill passed 398-17 — to the delight of President Bush, who said he looked forward to signing a “strong bill” in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, which left nearly 7,000 people reported missing or dead.
“I am pleased that the House has taken the vital step to secure our nation’s security by passing the defense authorization bill,” Bush said in a statement.
Like the Senate, House members backed away from a battle over Bush’s missile defense plan.
The House agreed to shift $400 million from the $8 billion missile defense budget and use it on programs to battle terrorism and wage an offensive on those behind the attacks.
House Democrats, who wanted to cut nearly $1 billion from missile defense prior to the attacks, agreed to the compromise with Republicans to avoid a confrontation over the bill and to speed up its approval ahead of the military’s expected counterstrike.
“I look forward to being able to debate this at a later time,” said Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. He said the Bush administration should “reciprocate” by not conducting missile defense testing that violates the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Moscow.
The Senate also agreed last week to sidestep an expected battle over Bush’s missile defense plan by dropping a Democratic-backed provision requiring congressional approval for testing that violated the ABM treaty.
CONFERENCE PANEL TO DECIDE BASE CLOSURE ISSUE
The Senate gave Bush the option of spending $1.3 billion of the missile defense budget on anti-terrorism programs.
The defense authorization bills provide a blueprint for military spending in fiscal 2002, which begins on Monday. Lawmakers in both chambers tried to minimize disagreements on the defense bills in order to get them passed quickly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But the Senate version was bogged down over unrelated amendments on Tuesday, including an effort to couple it with the House-approved national energy plan. The Senate will move to other business on Wednesday and come back to the defense measure later.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Senate backed a round of cost-saving base closures sought by the Pentagon in 2003. Defense officials estimate up to 25 percent of bases in the United States could be closed at an annual savings of $3 billion or more.