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House set to pass defense bill, Crusader

House set to pass defense bill, Crusader

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives is prepared to pass a nearly $400 billion wartime defense bill for next year that includes funding approval for the Crusader howitzer, the controversial weapons program Pentagon leaders want killed.

The Defense Department authorization bill also includes waivers that will allow the department to bypass two major environmental laws the Pentagon says disrupt its ability to train troops for the war on terrorism.

Under the bill, the Pentagon is relieved from strictly abiding by the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Birds Treaty Act. Defense Department officials say those laws hamper the military's ability to train, particularly at bombing ranges that are often in remote areas where many birds nest.

Both provisions were opposed by Democrats, who tried to strip them out of the bill. But Republican leaders, who support the measures and control the chamber, blocked the Democrats by crafting rules for debate that prevented amendments on those subjects.

Debate on the remaining portions of the bill is likely to be less controversial. Passage could come as early as Thursday night.

Debate over the multibillion Crusader raged for weeks at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has called the heavy, tank-like vehicle a relic of the Cold War, better designed to battle the Soviet Union than terrorists in the Middle East or other modern threats.

But congressional leaders, particularly those from Oklahoma where much of the Crusader is manufactured, disagreed with that assessment and fought vigorously to save the program.

Thursday's action does not save the Crusader from Pentagon's ax, but it keeps the debate alive as the Senate takes up the defense bill and negotiations with the White House move ahead.




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