Wednesday, June 21, 2006

US House rejects a bid by Democrats to force the Bush administration to get court orders for its domestic surveillance program

US House clears $427.6 billion for Pentagon
By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a $427.6 billion Pentagon funding bill on Tuesday after rejecting a bid by Democrats to force the Bush administration to get court orders for its domestic surveillance program.

The House voted 407-19 for the defense bill, which includes another $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Senate has not taken up its version of the bill.

Voting 219-207 largely along party lines, the House defeated an amendment to make the National Security Agency obtain warrants before listening to the international phone calls and reading the e-mails of U.S. citizens.

The Bush administration has defended its domestic spying program conducted without obtaining warrants as essential to pursuing terrorism suspects. But Democrats and some Republicans say it tramples on U.S. citizens' privacy rights.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said his amendment would make the administration comply with the Foreign Electronic Surveillance Act, which governs such programs and requires warrants.

But most Republicans said the amendment would hamper the NSA's ability to use electronic eavesdropping and infringe on President George W. Bush's war powers.

During the debate, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, agreed to hold a hearing on bills to make the program comply with FISA, which requires warrants before or within 72 hours after surveillance.

The defense spending bill's $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, intended to fund them through the first half of the next fiscal year starting in October, would bring their costs to $450 billion.

The bill also included an extra $500 million for equipment for the National Guard, provides a 2.2 percent military pay raise, and gives $1.5 billion to test and field new jammers to counter improvised explosive devices responsible for many U.S. military deaths in Iraq.

The bill provides $1.4 billion more than the Pentagon sought for 20 F-22A war planes, but trimmed the administration's requests for various programs including developing a missile defense system, the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and the Army's Future Combat Systems.

The White House also complained that lawmakers shifted $4 billion from the Pentagon budget bill to help fund non-defense spending, making part of that up in emergency war spending bills not part of the Pentagon's base budget.

It threatened to veto a final defense budget bill "that significantly underfunds" the Defense Department to help meet other budget demands.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan)