The US House of Representatives late Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a 491-billion-dollar defense bill that contains new funds for the war in Iraq, but rejected an attempt to force on the Bush administration a timetable for withdrawing troops from the country.
By a vote of 390-39, lawmakers passed the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act that establishes spending ceilings and policies for the Pentagon and other agencies on matters ranging from military pay to weapons procurements to missile defense.
"This bill strikes the right balance," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said following the vote. "It shows that we're being responsible with taxpayer dollars while providing the tools needed to protect America from terrorists."
But just weeks after Congress signed off on more than 81 billion dollars to finance this year's military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the House threw another 49.1 billion on the table.
The new funds will be used to equip army Humvee vehicles with armor plates to protect soldiers from roadside bombs, and purchase more night vision devices as well as improvised explosive device jammers, a new invention the military plans to use in its anti-insurgency campaign.
Facing a shortage of new National Guard and reserve recruits, lawmakers wrote in provisions that recommend increases of US Army and Marine Corps active duty personnel by 10,000 and 1,000 respectively and added hefty financial incentives for those serving in the ranks.
The measure provides for a 3.1-percent pay raise for all members of the armed forces and bolsters a monthly hardship benefit paid in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan 150 percent.
But the House defeated an amendment that would have compelled the administration of President George W. Bush to lay out a specific timetable for pulling out from Iraq.
The amendment, proposed by California Democrat Lynn Woolsey, a firm opponent of the war, called on the president to develop a plan for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and submit it to Congress.
"Its time to give Iraq back to its own people," Woolsey said in the run-up to the vote. "And its time to truly support our troops - by bringing them home."
Her motion, however, was rejected 128-300.
The bill also calls on the Pentagon to develop a new class of nuclear submarines, allocates millions for new aircraft and ships, and boosts the budget for the controversial national missile defense program by 100 million dollars.
It also authorized four million dollars for continued research on "bunker buster" munitions, including their nuclear version.
The program has been roundly condemned by arms control advocates as a tacit resumption of the nuclear arm race. But in what its critics see as a small victory, the legislation moves the project from the Energy Department, which has the capability to test nuclear weapons, to the Pentagon, which does not.
"This improvement moves forward research on conventional bunker busters, which I support, but not new nuclear testing, which poses tremendous and unpredictable risks," said Democratic Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher.
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