June 14, 2011 / 6:02 PM / 8 years ago

House panel backs $649 billion in defense spending

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers expressed growing skepticism about the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday as a House panel approved $649 billion in defense spending for the 2012 fiscal year, including $118 billion for wars abroad.

U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar Forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Lawmakers urged President Barack Obama to step up the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and endorsed tougher oversight of U.S. spending in Pakistan as the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee debated defense spending for next year.

The panel approved the $649 billion in defense spending bill on a voice vote and forwarded it to the full House for consideration, expected later this month.

The Senate is still working on its version of the bill. The two houses must pass the same bill before sending it to Obama for his signature.

The $649 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget plus overseas operations like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was nearly $22 billion less than the spending approved for the current fiscal year, mainly due to falling costs associated with the Iraq war.

But Democratic Representative Norman Dicks warned the cost of the conflict in Afghanistan was becoming unsustainable.

“I am increasingly convinced that the administration has to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and at the same time work for a political settlement,” Dicks said.

While endorsing the president on Iraq and Afghanistan, Dicks said it “is not going to be realistic” to continue funding the wars at the current levels in coming years.

“Are we going to educate the American people, are we going to take care of the unemployed, or are we going to continue doing nation-building in Afghanistan?” he asked. “I think that is a choice we are all going to have to consider in the days ahead.”

The panel agreed to a proposal by Representative Jeff Flake to tighten congressional oversight over $1.1 billion in counterinsurgency funds approved for Pakistan. Congress would have 30 days to review administration spending plans before 75 percent of the funds could be released.

The bill approved by the committee cuts $8.9 billion from Obama’s request for 2012 defense spending, mainly by delaying procurement and development costs for some weapons systems to later years.

Reporting by David Alexander and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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