San Diego Union Tribune

May 5, 2006

House panel puts brakes on, moves past Bush's defense plan

By Otto Kreisher

WASHINGTON – The Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, normally champions of missile defense, joined Democrats in voting to slow the Bush administration's rush to deploy a ground-based defense system.

The funding cuts, reallocations and restrictions on the missile programs were among the many changes to administration proposals that the committee made when adopting next year's defense authorization bill late Wednesday.

The panel also overruled the administration on the size of the Army and Marine Corps, the rate of next year's military pay raise and the future of several major weapons programs when it voted 60-1 to authorize defense spending of $512 billion – $49 billion more than President Bush requested.

Much of the additional spending would go to support members of the armed services, including a 2.7 percent general pay raise – half a percent more than Bush wanted. The bill also increased troop levels beyond what the president requested, letting the Army add 30,000 more active soldiers, the Marines increase their numbers by 5,000, and the National Guard by 17,000. The panel added $109 million for electronic jammers to help protect troops against improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which are causing most of the casualties in Iraq, and $100 million for unmanned aerial vehicles to help spot the IEDs.

It also rejected the administration's proposal to increase substantially the fees military retirees and dependents under age 65 would pay for the Tricare health care plan.

And the panel approved $50 billion to cover expected costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the final months of the next fiscal year, which the administration did not request.

Although the committee's cut of $183.5 million was barely a nick from the Missile Defense Agency's $10 billion budget, the reductions and redirections were seen by outside critics and panel Democrats as a significant change in attitude by members of the GOP majority.

But Philip Coyle, formerly the Pentagon's top weapons tester, noted that after four years without a successful intercept by the ground-based system, the Republicans agreed with the Democrats that “it makes no sense to waste money on a missile defense without being sure it works.”

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