The House overwhelmingly approved a $417 billion spending bill yesterday that gives the Bush administration most of what it wants for the Pentagon in 2005, but a related House report warned that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are "generating great stresses" on U.S. forces.
The vote was 403 to 17 in favor of the annual spending bill, which funds new weapons, a missile defense system, military pay and benefits, and the global war on terrorism. It includes $25 billion as well for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a sum that is viewed as only a first installment, with possibly larger outlays early next year.
But the political unanimity belied growing concerns in the House over the financial stresses posed by multifaceted U.S. military commitments.
"It is becoming clearer with each passing day that these operations are generating great strains on the current force, in terms of both manning and equipment," said a report by the House Appropriations Committee. "The committee is deeply concerned that these stresses are creating many near and mid-term challenges which have yet to be fully factored into Department of Defense plans and budgets."
The speedy House action on the spending bill was in sharp contrast to a slow debate in the Senate on a $447 billion defense authorization measure that covers the Energy Department's nuclear weapons programs as well as Defense Department activities. That bill is now in its fourth week of consideration.
Yesterday the Senate once again reaffirmed its support for the administration's missile defense plans and agreed to ease "Buy American" restrictions that limit the Pentagon's ability to procure defense goods from abroad.
The Senate voted 56 to 44 to defeat a proposal by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) to cut $515 million planned for new missile interceptors and use the money instead for domestic anti-terrorism and global nuclear containment programs.
The vote on Levin's proposal followed several other Democratic defeats on the missile defense issue over the past week, including an attempt to bar deployment of the system before it undergoes operational testing. The first interceptors are scheduled to be deployed in Alaska and California later this year.
Levin's amendment would not have affected these interceptors or 10 others scheduled for deployment over the next two years. His proposed cuts would have come from funding designated for another 10 interceptors in future years, which would bring the total to 30.
Protecting homeland security and getting control over nuclear material that could fall into terrorists' hands have a higher priority than protections against ballistic missile attack that may not prove effective, Levin said. But Republicans defended the missile defense program as a top national priority.
The "Buy American" showdown came over a proposal by Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) to reject an Armed Services Committee proposal to relax the procurement rules for defense firms of certain close allies, mostly NATO countries. There was no direct vote on Dayton's proposal, but the Senate instead approved a proposal by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to ease current restrictions for a smaller number of countries. The vote was 54 to 46.