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US House approves $460 bln Pentagon Budget, delays war showdown

February 5, 2012

The US House has approved modest changes to President George W. Bush’s record Pentagon budget proposal on Sunday; however, Democrats indicated plans to resurrect a more contentious debate over the Iraq war after the August recess. The House voted 395-13 to approve the measure, which would provide $459.6 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2008. On the whole, the bill would provide $3.5 billion less than President Bush requested in his fiscal 2008 budget blueprint and $39.7 billion, or 9.5 percent, more than was endorsed in the last fiscal 2007. The bill would not include funds for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and this issue will be considered separately when Congress returns from recess in September. The defense legislation by and large endorses Bush’s plans for key weapons systems such as the next generation Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which has been beleaguered due to cost appreciations. At the same time, the Pentagon would get another several-billion-dollar budget increase through a companion measure covering military base construction and a recent round of base closures. Apparently, procurement costs are driving the Pentagon budget increasingly higher. Interestingly, if war costs are added in, the total defense budget will be significantly higher than during the typical Cold War year, even after adjusting for inflation. The measure does not comprise Bush’s 2008 funding of extra $147 billion in Iraq war that the Bush administration wants Congress to approve this autumn. Democrats say they would consider that money in separate legislation in September. Moreover, this tactic would set the stage for a crucial clash over the war. Democrats are expected to attempt to impose conditions on the money. However, this autumn, US Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus would report to the lawmakers on the war. According to an estimate, over $600 billion in war checks have already been written for Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the forthcoming report is very crucial and even Republican leaders have conceded that the Petraeus report could be critical to continuing support in the party for Bush’s strategy to surge nearly 30,000 extra troops in Iraq. On the other hand, the White House has criticized Democrats for altering Bush’s proposal and in actual fact transferring $3.5 billion of the money to domestic spending programs. However, there are ample chances that the cuts will be restored in the fall when Congress will consider another wartime supplemental spending bill. The administration has not threatened so far to veto the measure. In fact, Bush’s constitutional privilege to set foreign policy and a slim Democratic majority in both chambers, have made change hard to enforce. Along with Bush’s veto power, any war bill is subject to a 60-vote supermajority in the closely divided 100-seat Senate. Therefore, Democrats would need 60 votes to shut off debate and move to a final vote, but they control the Senate by only 51-49. This equation puts Republicans in an advantageous position to block final Senate votes on anything they can close ranks behind. Overall, the defense spending measure provides $139 million less than Bush requested for building missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. The funds were reduced by Democrats during debate in the House Appropriations Committee. However, earlier Democratic efforts to compel a change in war policy have either been blocked in the Senate or vetoed by the present US president. George Bush has said earlier that he has concerns about the defense-spending bill, but he has not made it explicit yet that he will veto it. Read Image