House votes to appropriate $606 billion for defense

WASHINGTON Thu Jul 19, 2012 9:23pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives approved on Thursday $606 billion in defense spending for next year after two days of debate that saw lawmakers from both parties line up to condemn the ongoing war in Afghanistan as a waste of lives and money.

The Republican-dominated House voted 326-90 to approve the annual defense appropriations bill, which includes a Pentagon base budget of $518 billion plus $87.7 billion in spending for the Afghanistan war and other overseas operations, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers proposed dozens of bills over two days of debate seeking to reduce spending by cutting war funding or trimming programs, but the measure remained relatively unchanged until the final moments of voting.

In a last series of amendments, lawmakers agreed to freeze Pentagon spending at 2012 levels, effectively cutting $1 billion from the base budget appropriation. They also approved an amendment switching $5.6 billion between accounts for technical reasons.

Even with the spending freeze, the House measure is $2 billion more than requested by President Barack Obama, whose administration issued a veto threat against the bill because it exceeds budget caps imposed last year.

The president and Congress agreed last autumn to cut projected Pentagon spending by $487 billion over 10 years as part of a budget deal aimed at reducing the government's trillion-dollar annual deficits.

The budget proposed by the Pentagon would have cut defense spending for the first time in more than a decade.

The House appropriations bill, which covers the 2013 fiscal year beginning in October, will have to be reconciled with the Senate's version of the measure before it can be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature. The Senate is not expected to debate its bill until August.

"This bill supports and takes care of our troops at the highest possible level, keeps America at the forefront of defense technologies and boosts key training and readiness programs to prepare our troops for combat and peace-time missions," Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said.

War-weary lawmakers from both parties voiced frustration during debate with the Afghanistan war and submitted a series of amendments trying to reduce war spending to speed the return of U.S. forces.

They also expressed anger over corruption in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, skepticism about any lasting progress toward resolving the conflict and exhaustion over the unending cost in lives and treasure. But the bill easily passed the House.

(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Jackie Frank and Philip Barbara)

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