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House passes defense bill, Crusader funding

House passes defense bill, Crusader funding

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defying a warning from President Bush, the House of Representatives passed a nearly $400 billion wartime defense bill early Friday for next year that includes funding approval for the Crusader howitzer, the controversial weapons program Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants killed.

Bush Thursday warned Congress against attempts to revive the $11 billion program and said that he fully supported Rumsfeld's decision to scrap the artillery system and seek alternatives more in keeping with the current threat facing the United States.

The program was already controversial when Pentagon sources started talking to the media about conflict between Rumsfeld and Army Secretary Tom White.(Full Story)

Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz were reportedly furious to discover that the Army was circulating "talking points" to Capitol Hill in favor of the Crusader program within hours of White being informed of the preliminary decision to cancel the weapons program.

Crusader Fact Sheet 

Debate over the multibillion Crusader has raged for weeks at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. 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.

 Defense Bill Highlights
  • $7.8 billion for development of a national missile defense system
  • Accelerates development of pilotless planes for surveillance and attack
  • Allocates billions for a new generation of stealth jet fighters
  • Across-the-board military pay raise of at least 4.1 percent
  • $3.2 billion above Bush request for weapons, including $1 billion more to build ships
  • Adds 12,650 personnel across the four armed services, largest increase since 1986.
  • Exempts military from some endangered species protection rules
  • Requires Pentagon to present a plan on how it can shorten time needed to prepare to conduct nuclear tests to one year

    Source: Associated Press, CNN
  • 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.

    The House vote does not save the Crusader from Pentagon's ax, but it keeps the debate alive as the Senate takes up the defense bill.

    Late Friday, the Senate Armed Services Committee entered the Crusader fray with an announcement that it would summon Rumsfeld to justify his position before taking a position itself.

    Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said Rumsfeld put the committee in an "awkward" position by announcing his recommendation while the committee was working on its defense bill.

    House bill excludes military from environmental laws

    The House bill passed 359-58 shortly before 2 a.m. EDT, according to the House's Web site.

    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.

    Crusader storm claims first casualty

    The Crusader debate claimed its first casualty Friday, when, according to an Army statement, Kenneth A. Steadman, principal deputy in the Army's Office of Legislative Affairs, resigned followed his decision to accept responsibility for distributing the talking points last week. (Full story)

    The talking points were delivered within hours of a meeting in which Wolfowitz told White to come up with a plan in 30 days to cancel the Crusader and put the money saved into advanced technology programs.


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