Congress approves defense bill

By Gabriel Monte, Freedom New Mexico

The Senate passed a defense bill Wednesday that includes $26 million in funding for construction projects at Cannon Air Force Base.

The bill cleared the Senate 88-8 despite Republican objections to billions of dollars in special projects lawmakers had added.

The measure would permit $612.5 billion in spending for national defense programs in 2009, including $70 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes a 3.9 percent pay increase for military personnel, half a percentage point more than President Bush requested. A separate bill will have to be passed to actually appropriate the money.

The measure would authorize spending $8.3 million to construct a CV-22 flight simulator facility and $18.1 million for a maintenance hangar for AC-130 aircraft at Cannon Air Force Base, according to Maria Najera, a spokeswoman for Senator Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

“This bill offers further commitment that Congress stands ready to prepare Cannon for its new Special Operations mission,” Bingaman said in a press release.

Najera said the Senate bill must be reconciled with a similar bill from the House of Representatives that passed in May, then approved by both levels of Congress before it is sent to Bush for a signature.

Republican opponents objected to $5 billion in pet projects that Congress added to the bill. But proponents characterized “no” votes as showing disrespect for military personnel.

The Associated Press Contributed to this report.