December 18, 2009 / 6:33 AM / 8 years ago

Military spending bill clears Senate hurdle

<p>A Lockheed Martin Corp. F-22A fighter jet is pictured in this undated photograph.U.S. Air Force/Handout</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A $636 billion military spending bill that would fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cleared a procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate early on Friday.

The 63 to 33 vote opened the way for senators to give the measure final congressional approval on Saturday, as it has already cleared the House of Representatives.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has kept lawmakers working through weekends and late into the night with the goal of passing a major healthcare overhaul before Christmas.

Republicans have erected a series of procedural hurdles to try to stymie Reid and his fellow Democrats on healthcare, but are expected to support the military-funding measure.

"Not even the darkness outside can conceal the games being played inside this Senate," Reid said before the vote.

The bill covers Pentagon operations through September 30, 2010, but the $128 billion earmarked for ongoing wars will not be enough to cover President Barack Obama's plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

The spending bill represents a partial victory for Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had sought to eliminate unwanted weapons programs over the objections of lawmakers who say they are an important source of skilled manufacturing jobs.

Congress eliminated funding for Lockheed Martin Corp's F-22 fighter jet, as Obama had requested.

But lawmakers funded 10 more Boeing Co C-17 transport planes than the Pentagon asked for, at a cost of $2.5 billion.

Congress also kept alive the troubled VH-71 presidential helicopter, made by Lockheed, and an alternate engine made by General Electric Co and Rolls Royce Group Plc for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, despite the Pentagon's objections.

The bill includes 1,720 earmarks costing $4.2 billion for lawmakers' pet projects, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

It also would extend a handful of unrelated programs that otherwise would expire at the end of the year, including unemployment benefits.

Reporting by Andy Sullivan and editing by Todd Eastham

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