House panel authorizes $73.4 billion military procurement

The Military Procurement panel of the House Armed Services Committee agreed by a unanimous voice vote Tuesday to authorize $73.4 billion to buy ships, tanks, missiles and planes for the American military in the coming fiscal year, National Journal News Service reported.

Subcommittee Chairman Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said the total was $3.2 billion more than President Bush had requested, but left unclear how funds would be redistributed to keep the president's total fiscal 2003 request for the Pentagon within agreed-upon limits.

Armed Services Chairman Bob Stump, R-Ariz., allowed Weldon and other subcommittee chairmen to divvy up about $5 billion as they saw fit, with the procurement panel allotted $3.2 billion. Stump is expected to explain where the extra money will come from when the full committee meets to mark up the defense bill today.

Beneficiaries of the procurement subcommittee's redistribution of funds included the National Guard, which was slated to get 12 H-60 Blackhawk helicopters, and the Navy, which was authorized "over $1 billion" extra for shipbuilding, according to the subcommittee's breakdown of funds. Weldon said the authorization for the Guard and reserve forces increased by $450 million, a 17 percent increase over the requested level.

Weldon said he would have hiked the procurement account in the fiscal 2003 defense budget even higher--using money from a $10 billion cost-of-war fund--if not for the opposition of the White House and House Republican leadership. Bush has called on Congress to restrain its spending so he can balance the federal budget by 2004.

In a move to satisfy lawmakers concerned about the future of the U.S. shipbuilding industry, the subcommittee projected $810 million to build another DDG-51 destroyer if the Navy wins that much in a settlement of its decade-long battle in the U. S. Court of Claims with the contractors who started building the A-12 carrier fighter-bomber.

The president's budget request for shipbuilding decreased 14 percent from last year's appropriation, from $9.5 billion to $8.2 billion, Weldon told a recent subcommittee hearing.

Many lawmakers said that is not enough. At a recent subcommittee hearing, Armed Services ranking member Gene Taylor, D-Miss., whose home state hosts the Litton Ingalls shipyard, argued that the decrease would lead to the United States having to buy ships from overseas.

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