U.S. House approves $310 billion defense bill
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. House Wednesday approved a compromise $310 billion defense measure that authorizes a 3.7 percent pay raise and gives lifelong health care to military retirees.
The bill, agreed by House-Senate negotiators last week, was passed 382-31 by the House after negotiators dropped several controversial provisions, including a Senate amendment expanding federal hate crimes laws to cover homosexuals.
Fiscal 2001 defense spending levels were passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in August, but the companion authorization bill had been hung up by the hate crimes measure and other added provisions.
The bill authorizes about $4.5 billion more in spending than requested by Clinton, and $12.6 billion more than fiscal 2000 spending.
Lawmakers said the increased spending was crucial to boosting military readiness drained by frequent open-ended overseas deployments and improving the military's quality of life and its recruitment and retention efforts.
"Continuing to attempt to fulfill our superpower responsibilities on the cheap is simply no longer an option," said Rep. Floyd Spence of South Carolina, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The bill raises the pay of troops and officers by 3.7 percent.
It also allows military retirees to remain in the military Tricare insurance system for life, rather than being forced to leave when they become eligible for Medicare. They could use Tricare as a supplement to pay costs not covered by Medicare, and would not have to pay enrollment fees, co-payments or deductibles.
The bill also provides military retirees a comprehensive pharmacy benefit.
The measure includes a package to compensate workers at Energy Department facilities who were exposed to radiation in building and testing nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
But House-Senate negotiators eliminated the hate crimes expansion and language that would have required the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Kosovo next year unless NATO allies met their aid commitments.
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