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House to Defy Bush With Defense Bill

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ANNE FLAHERTY | July 20, 2007 07:03 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — House Democrats next week will introduce a $460 billion military spending bill they will use to challenge the war in Iraq, try to close Guantanamo Bay prison and increase oversight of defense contractors.

The annual legislation is considered a must-pass bill to fund the military's fleet of vehicles and aircraft, research efforts and servicemember payrolls. It covers the 2008 budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Overall, the bill is on track to give President Bush much of what he wants. The measure includes nearly $100 billion in procurement spending and would fund several of the Pentagon's big-ticket items, including $3.2 billion to buy 20 F-22 Raptor aircraft.

It also would provide $1.6 billion more than Bush wanted for shipbuilding to buy five new Navy ships; $1.1 billion extra for an eighth Army brigade of Stryker vehicles; and $705 million more than requested for development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The House Appropriations Committee planned to review the bill Wednesday, with floor debate the following week. Details of the proposal were obtained in advance by The Associated Press.

The measure does not include Bush's 2008 funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats said they wanted to consider that money in separate legislation this September _ a tactic that leaves open the possibility of refusing to fund the war or attaching strings to the money if progress in Iraq is not made by then.

But Democratic leaders say the annual spending measure is likely to become a magnet for amendments intended to end the Iraq war, including a proposal ordering troop withdrawals.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., also was expected to propose cutting Bush's budget for Guantanamo Bay prison in half, beating the administration to the punch in shutting the facility for terror detainees. The prison's annual operating budget is $125 million.

The White House says Bush has already decided to close the U.S. prison in Cuba and transfer more than 370 terrorism suspects elsewhere, possibly including the maximum-security military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Halving the prison's budget would keep it afloat for part of the year, giving the administration time to transfer the detainees, Democrats say.

While Iraq and Guantanamo Bay will likely be addressed in coming weeks, the bill is already set to boost substantially the money spent to oversee military contractors, including $24 million for the inspector general. The proposal also directs the defense secretary to develop a clear set of "rules-of-engagement" for all contracted security personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contractor abuse and lack of effective oversight "has cast a pall over the service contractor community writ large," a report on the bill states. "This must be reversed."

The bill also would fund $2.2 billion to cover a 3.5 percent pay raise for service members; $8.5 for missile defense; and eliminate the $468 million requested in procurement funding for the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter.