Thursday, December 22, 2005

US Senate OKs military budget without Alaska drilling

US Senate OKs military budget without Alaska drilling

US Senate OKs military budget without Alaska drilling
WASHINGTON (AFP) Dec 22, 2005
After strenuous late-night wrangling, the US Senate approved a 453-billion-dollar military spending bill that contains an explicit ban of torture and new funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But its approval late Wednesday by a 93-0 vote became possible only after senators agreed to rid the measure of a provision that would have allowed oil companies to drill in a wildlife preserve in northeastern Alaska.

The measure endured tortuous negotiations during which Democrats managed to keep a united front in opposing the drilling provision championed by Republican Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and backed by top Republicans and the White House.

The drilling language was doomed earlier in the day when Republicans fell four votes short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster of the measure by Democratic senators, who threatened an extended debate to prevent a vote.

Two senators, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Mike DeWine of Ohio, defected from the Republican camp and sided with Democrats on that issue.

Critics have charged that drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve would damage the pristine environment without significantly contributing to solving US energy woes.

"This was wrong," an irate Stevens shouted on the Senate floor, arguing the decision had robbed the government of an important source of revenue. "I am going to go to every one of your states, and I am going to tell them what you've done."

But the bleary-eyed lawmakers felt it was necessary to move on.

For most, it was a must-pass measure primarily because it contains 50 billion dollars to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal 2006, which started on October 1.

With the war-weary Army Reserve and National Guard having trouble recruiting new personnel, it also offers crucial incentives to make military careers more attractive.

Nearly 97 billion dollars are to be spent on military pay, which is due to be increased 3.1 percent, as well as on new housing and spending allowances.

An additional 76.5 billion are being allocated for purchasing 24 new state-of-the-art F-22 Raptor fighter jets, 15 C-17 transports planes and other military hardware, including new armor for army vehicles in Iraq.

A total of 7.8 billion dollars are allocated for missile defense programs.

Attached to the bill are two key non-military measures: nearly 3.8 billion dollars in emergency funding for avian flu protection and 29 billion for hurricane recovery efforts in New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast.

The bill includes a controversial amendment introduced by Republican Senator John McCain that bans "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of any individual held in American custody in the United States or abroad.

The torture ban was initially opposed by the White House, which had sought an exemption for CIA officers in emergency situations, but it was forced to reconsider its position after both the Senate and the House of Representatives showed veto-proof majorities supporting the measure.

At the same time, the defense spending bill contains a provision introduced by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham that makes it more difficult for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to challenge their detentions in federal courts.

The House of Representatives has already passed its own version of the bill. But since the Alaska drilling provision has now been removed, it will have to vote on it again, most likely on Thursday.

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