Lid is off defense spending in House

The House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to report out a bill providing $317.5 billion for the Pentagon for fiscal 2002, but served notice through its leaders that this total will be raised substantially before the measure reaches the floor next week.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., went so far as to tell his colleagues at the open markup session that the $317.5 billion represented only "a peacetime budget," not one big enough to finance the war terrorists triggered on Sept. 11.

Young told National Journal News Service after the meeting that the lid "is pretty much" off Defense spending and conceded that the nation is back to deficit budgets because of the new war. The political tenor of the open markup session indicated that the Pentagon's budget would be pushed up to at least $337 billion and probably higher.

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., who usually votes against Defense appropriations bills on the grounds that they are ill-conceived and excessive, not only told his colleagues that the FY02 measure was "a good bill" but urged his colleagues to increase it.

"We ain't at peace no more," Obey said.

President Bush has requested Congress to appropriate an extra $20 billion for FY01 and another $20 billion for FY02. Lawmakers already have appropriated the first $20 billion supplemental but did not receive the inch-thick book documenting the needs for the second $20 billion until last week, Young said. He said the committee has not had time to comb through the White House request but will do so over the next several days, so the bill can go to the floor next week.

"It's clear to me that the $20 billion [request] is inadequate," Obey said.

He said Congress "has an obligation to do something about" the urgent money needs of agencies involved in the war against terrorism. He named the Pentagon, CIA, National Security Agency and FBI as among the agencies that should receive more money from Congress. The Defense appropriations bill is the place to add the funds, because "it will be the last train out of the station for quite some time," Obey said.

"This is only the beginning" of gearing up the nation to fight terrorism, said Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., referring to the Defense money bill.

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