The Shopping List Battle

US Air Force RQ-1 Predator drone aircraft on tarmac, 3-1-01
The battle over a new artillery system the Pentagon doesn't want moved to the Senate when the House, mindful of the Bush administration's war on terrorism, endorsed the most generous defense spending boost in decades.

The House vote early Friday was 359-58 to authorize $383 billion in national security spending for 2003.

The legislation contains $475 million for the Army to continue developing the $11 billion Crusader cannon and non-binding language telling the Pentagon not to kill it before producing a study on the alternatives.

Across Capitol Hill, the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday completed its behind-closed-doors work to craft a separate defense spending blueprint. The panel put off decisions on the Crusader until after a hearing scheduled on it next week, Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had announced only a day before that the Pentagon planned to get rid of the new gun in favor of more-futuristic technologies like precision-guided bombing.

The White House budget office said President Bush's advisers would recommend a veto if Congress limits "his ability to cancel this program."

Those in Congress whose states stand to benefit from developing and manufacturing the Crusader have promised to fight the Pentagon decision.

"If we intend to have the best ground forces possible for force protection and future fire support, the answer is Crusader," said one of those lawmakers, Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla.

However, some lawmakers, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have indicated support for Rumsfeld's move.

And lawmakers' decisions at this stage are not the last word. Congressional appropriators still must write separate legislation before the money may be spent.

The House's outline for military spending by the Pentagon and nuclear weapons-related programs at the Energy Department roughly matches Bush's request to Congress for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. A $10 billion war reserve fund proposed by the White House is contained in separate legislation. Taken together, the bills would provide an increase of about $50 billion, or 15 percent, over what Congress authorized for 2002.

House Armed Services Chairman Bob Stump, R-Ariz., said lawmakers were providing the largest real increase in Pentagon spending, in inflation-adjusted dollars, since 1966.

"We're giving the president and our troops the tools they need to do their jobs," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

The House legislation includes an increase of almost 1 percent in military personnel across the four armed services and new benefits for troops. It also would authorize accelerated development of unmanned surveillance planes and provide billions of dollars for a new generation of stealth jet fighters and fighting terrorism.

The Senate version included $1 billion less for missile defense spending than Bush requested, Levin said.

Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the top Republican on the Senate panel, criticized the House plan to tap the $10 billion fund for $3.7 billion worth of expenses already incurred so far during the war in Afghanistan.

Warner said he and Levin would abide by a commitment not to tap the contingency fund. The White House wanted to use it for unspecified future war needs without prior congressional approval.

Levin was releasing other details Friday.

During the House debate, Republican leaders beat back a Democratic attempt to force votes on exemptions the bill grants the military from some major environmental laws and a variety of other issues, including the nation's nuclear arsenal and ballistic missile defense system.

While lamenting the lack of wider discussion, Democrats were eager to show support for the overall bill's increased military spending during a time of war.

"We stand for a strong national defense," said Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas. "But we believe there needs to be a discussion on important issues."

Still, Democrats made clear their displeasure at being denied the chance to raise the issues they wanted. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who was denied a vote on his proposal to repeal a new round of military base closures planned for 2005, tied up the floor for hours with a more than a dozen time-eating procedural votes.

Republicans argued that the rules for debate were fair.

Several Democratic attempts to shape the bill failed. They included amendments that would have prohibited the use of nuclear bombs to demolish deeply buried military facilities, barred spending on space-based national missile defense programs and allowed female troops posted overseas to obtain privately paid abortions at military hospitals.