Senate panel OKs $9B military construction bill

With minimal debate and just one technical amendment, the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday approved the $9.16 billion fiscal 2004 military construction bill by unanimous consent.

The bill (S. 1357) provides slightly more money than President Bush's fiscal 2004 request of $9.12 billion but $1.5 billion less than fiscal 2003 levels. It includes $3.96 billion for service-wide construction, $691 million for the reserves, $370 million for base realignment and closure, $169 million for the NATO security investment program, $3.9 billion for family housing and $55 million for the section 118 general provision.

Also Thursday, the House voted by an overwhelming 428-0 margin to pass its remarkably similar $9.2 billion version of the military construction bill. The Senate bill could be on the Senate floor as early as the week senators return from next week's July 4 recess.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, speaking for herself and ranking member Mary Landrieu, D-La., emphasized the "special attention" they paid to beefing up spending on quality of life improvements for the troops, and the sizeable increase in the bill for the National Guard, which she said performed so ably in the recent war in Iraq.

But Hutchison focused her opening statement on the panel's only "major difference" with the Bush administration, over spending on overseas military bases, and explained why the subcommittee did not fund that account at the level the administration requested.

She said that until the Defense Department and an independent commission report back to Congress about how they plan to overhaul the entire network of overseas bases-which are still concentrated in Europe even after the end of the Cold War-the subcommittee would only selectively fund that account.

In the only amendment, Landrieu got unanimous consent to add a provision on the construction of military charter schools.

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