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US House backs $288 billion military spending bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $288 billion defense spending bill Wednesday that boosts military pay, improves military health care and bolsters efforts to recruit and retain troops.

The bill, approved 367-58, helps pay for two new Army brigades that can quickly deploy to hot spots and provides nearly $60 billion for procurement of new weaponry.

The legislation is the result of a House-Senate negotiating conference that worked out minor spending differences between the two chambers. It now goes to the Senate where quick approval is expected.

Under the fiscal 2001 legislation, military spending will increase by $18 billion over this fiscal year. The bill provides more than $3 billion above the figure budgeted by President Clinton.

Included is a $963 million increase in military health care funds to pay for broadened pharmacy access for all Medicare eligible military retirees, and additional funds to boost reenlistment bonuses and enlistment incentives.

Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, Republican head of the Appropriations Committee's defense panel, called the bill "a fabulous piece of work."

But Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said it actually would reduce funds for operations and maintenance accounts that contribute to military readiness.

"This Congress should not pretend it has strengthened military readiness," Obey said.

The measure provides $1.8 billion for the rapid response units proposed earlier this year by Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki. The funds would help develop, field and equip one 4,000-strong quick-strike unit, and pay to equip a second unit capable of deployment within 96 hours.

The funds also will help accelerate creation of a lighter, quicker combat vehicle capable of fighting like a tank.

The bill includes a 3.7 percent pay raise for troops and provides nearly $1.9 billion for development of a national missile defense system.

It also includes a cut of nearly $400 million in development funds for the Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter program, shifting $225 million of that into the plane's ongoing demonstration program until testing shows the project is making sufficient technological progress.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2000


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