Senate Approves Defense Bill

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The Senate approved its $345 billion defense spending bill without a dissenting vote Tuesday after dispensing with Republican objections that had stymied progress for a week as the nation geared up for war.

The vote was 99-0 for the bill that authorizes money for the Defense Department and the military work of the Energy Department for fiscal 2002, which began Monday.

"The men and women in the military should be able to count on us in normal times, and surely they ought to be able to count on us in these emergency times. And I believe very firmly that this bill does exactly that," Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told the Senate.

The only senator who did not vote was Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who fainted earlier Tuesday as he sat at his desk on the Senate floor. He was taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Tuesday's vote is another sign of just how important politicians of both parties consider it to be seen as unified right now, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss. Democrats dropped earlier objections to money for missile defense in the $345 billion bill and Republicans backed away from an effort to attach the president's energy plan to open up more oil drilling in Alaska.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who was insisting on attaching the Bush energy package to the defense bill joined an earlier 100-0 vote to move on, saying, "There is nobody on this floor who wants to have a defense authorization bill more than I do."

The roadblocks became apparent Sept. 25, as the House passed its version of the defense spending bill by a vote of 398-17, and the demands had not been amenable to compromise.

Levin said he feared the problems could kill the bill. "That would be a horrendous message to send" to the military and the nation, he said.

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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Congress was risking the bipartisan comity that has marked its efforts since the attacks.

"I'm worried that in a few minutes, the Senate may undo all that good work of the past three weeks, and bring an end to the bipartisan cooperation that has distinguished this institution, and give the public a reason to be ashamed of us," McCain said, calling the defense bill "the most important legislation we will pass since Sept. 11."

The unanimous vote to bypass the delays, when only 60 votes were needed, came after dozens of Republicans trooped into the chamber from a meeting in the office of Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

"I thought when it finally came down to it, the Republicans would not filibuster a bill of this import in terms onational unity and supporting our forces," Levin said.

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