Conferees Set Pentagon Budget

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

House and Senate negotiators yesterday approved a $459 billion Defense Department appropriations bill that pays for weapons systems and annual military expenses but, at the insistence of Democrats, includes only a quarter of the $196 billion President Bush sought to continue fighting next year in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead, the remaining $146 billion for combat operations will be in a second bill that will also contain language about troop withdrawals. Both measures are likely to head to the House floor this week.

Saying that the public wants the war to end, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, told reporters, "We'll take it step by step."

The compromise bill includes $8.7 billion for the administration's missile defense program, but lawmakers eliminated $85 million that would have paid for preparing controversial missile interceptor sites in Poland and a targeting radar in the Czech Republic. The missile defense program has drawn strong objections from Russian President Vladimir Putin and is not popular with either Poles or Czechs.

The House and Senate conferees halved money for developing the controversial Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which aims to produce a new nuclear warhead by 2012. The $15 million appropriated is limited to design and cost-study activities, a move that ensures that the next president, and not Bush, will decide whether to seek congressional approval for the new nuclear weapon.

Lawmakers approved $11.6 billion to pay for Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, which are being rushed to Iraq to better protect U.S. troops from makeshift bombs. Such weapons -- commonly known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs -- have been a particularly lethal threat to U.S. soldiers.

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