House panel unveils defense spending bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House panel on Tuesday unveiled a $649 billion defense spending bill for next year’s Pentagon budget that funds the nation’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and wades into the long-running fight over the multibillion-dollar, next generation jet fighter.

The House Appropriations Committee bill would provide $119 billion for the two wars, $841 million more than President Barack Obama sought but $39 billion below the current amount. Americans combat forces are slated to leave Iraq at the end of the year and Obama is weighing the first round in the drawdown of the 100,000 troops in Afghanistan in July, with all combat forces scheduled to be out by 2014.

The legislation would provide $13 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces and $1.1 billion for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, although 75 percent of the money would be withheld until the defense secretary reports to Congress on how the money would be spent.

The bill, which the defense subcommittee will consider on Wednesday, provides money for many of the programs spelled out in the defense blueprint approved overwhelmingly by the House last week. Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee took similar action to place conditions on aid to the Pakistan fund as a frustrated Congress has questioned what Islamabad knew about terrorist leader Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts after he was found deep inside Pakistan.

The bill would provide $530 billion in overall spending for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, an increase of $17 billion over the current year but $9 billion less than Obama sought. It provides the money for a 1.6 percent pay raise for military personnel and prevents the administration from spending any money to transfer terrorist suspects from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States.

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