Senate approves big increase in defense spending

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Military personnel would get their largest pay raise in two decades, development of a missile shield would continue and a new round of base closures would be permitted under legislation the Senate approved Tuesday.

The bill to authorize $345 billion in defense programs in the current fiscal year gives President Bush just about everything he had sought before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The total approved is $35 billion more than what Congress agreed to a year ago, an 11 percent increase. That is one of the most significant jumps in defense spending since the military buildup of the mid-1980s.

And more is likely to come.

Those figures do not include the Pentagon's yet-undetermined share of a $40 billion emergency spending package Congress approved shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And many lawmakers expect even more defense spending will be proposed as soon as the nation mobilizes for what could be a long and costly war on terrorism.

On Tuesday the Senate signaled its overwhelming support for higher spending with a 99-0 vote to approve the fiscal 2002 defense authorization bill. Only Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who took ill, missed the vote. The action came after the Senate had squelched efforts by some Republicans to attach the Bush administration's energy legislation as an amendment -- considered the last significant obstacle to passage.

Sponsors of the defense bill said it was too important to get bogged down in partisan debate.

"At a time when we are deploying forces around the world and mobilizing our National Guard and reserve units, it is a bill which is essential to our national security," said Sen. Carl M. Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The House approved similar legislation on a 398-17 vote on Sept. 25. The two versions must be reconciled before a bill can be sent to the White House.

Both bills authorize a 5 percent pay increase for military personnel, the largest since 1982. Some enlisted personnel and officers would be eligible for raises of up to 10 percent. Those raises would follow a 3.7 percent pay increase approved last year for more than 1.3 million active-duty personnel, after reports that some military families had to go on welfare to make ends meet.

Like the House-approved bill, the Senate's bill includes a substantial increase in the budget for research, development, testing and evaluation of ballistic missile defense systems. The House would spend $7.9 billion on such programs in fiscal 2002, up from $5.3 billion the year before; the Senate, as much as $8.3 billion. Under the Senate bill, however, the president would be allowed to spend up to $1.3 billion of that amount on counterterrorism programs instead.

Before Sept. 11, Senate Democrats had been preparing to fight Bush on missile defense. But after the attacks, they chose to defer the debate. They dropped a provision from the bill that would have required the president to seek congressional approval before spending any money on activities that would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

Now, the biggest challenge facing House-Senate negotiators will come on the issue of base closures. The Senate bill includes a Bush-requested authorization for a round of base closures in 2003; the House bill does not.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has argued that closure and consolidation of unneeded bases would free up funds to modernize the military. Many lawmakers, though, are anxious to protect bases in their home states. Others argue that now is not the time for the military to reduce its presence at bases scattered across the country. Advocates of base closure say Bush will have to intervene personally if he wants the Senate version to prevail.

Also on Tuesday, White House and congressional negotiators reached agreement on a budget deal that sets a $686 billion spending target for federal appropriations in 2002 -- up $25 billion from an earlier budget.

The funding agreement had been reached late last week, but did not become final until Bush agreed to request the additional funding in writing. Democrats sought such a presidential request to help insulate themselves from possible political attacks over the busting of the budget.

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