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House agrees to spend more for Iraq war

The House of Representatives voted to advance the Pentagon another $45 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Monday as it passed a $409 billion defense spending bill.

The House approved the emergency "bridge fund," which would bring costs of the U.S. military operations to more than $300 billion, as President Bush was forced to step up his defense of the Iraq war in the face of sliding public support.

Rep. Bill Young, the Florida Republican who steered the bill through the House, said it would take care of "the troops who serve our nation and provide them with the equipment and technology necessary to accomplish their mission."

House Republicans rebuffed an effort by Democrats to require Bush to submit a report to Congress on criteria that he will use to judge when U.S. troops can be withdrawn from Iraq.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California called the war "a grotesque mistake," and said the Republican-led Congress has failed to oversee the administration's conduct of it.

That sparked a rebuke from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, who said, "Leader Pelosi and the Democratic leadership should support our troops instead of spreading inflammatory statements."

The House, by voice vote, accepted an amendment by Rep. Jay Inslee , a Washington Democrat, to lift a $500 million cap on the amount of money available to train and equip Iraqi security forces.

Republicans said the bridge fund was needed to carry the Pentagon from the Oct. 1 start of the next fiscal year through March 2006 when it will need another emergency spending bill.

The House addressed religious tolerance problems at the Air Force Academy, approving an amendment by California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, which put Congress on record that the military must be open to religious expression of all faiths.

The Air Force is expected to release a review of the issues at its Colorado training academy this week. The amendment also requires the Pentagon to develop recommendations on maintaining a positive climate of religious freedom.

While the White House backed the overall House bill, it complained that lawmakers trimmed $3 billion from the Pentagon's base operations excluding the wars, which it said could shortchange regular military operations.

The bill backs most of the administration's requests for military hardware, but would cancel $150 million in funding for a Lockheed Martin Corp. cruise missile program, providing only $2 million for program termination.

The House Appropriations Committee, in a report on the bill, said the so-called Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, repeatedly failed reliability and performance tests.

The bill would also trim a key Army modernization program, Future Combat Systems, by $400 million to $3 billion, citing "significant development and contracting delays." Boeing Co. is the main contractor for the program, along with employee-owned Science Applications International Corp.

The bill would also slash $1 billion from a Northrop Grumman Corp. program to build the Navy's new-generation DD(X) destroyer. It would add $1.4 billion for an extra DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyer, $440 million for two extra littoral combat ships and $380 million for one further T-AKE cargo ship built by General Dynamics Corp .

Overall, the bill would fund $76.8 billion for Pentagon weapons purchases, up $171.5 million over Bush's request.

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