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House clears huge defense bill

The House of Representatives passed a mammoth package for the US Defence Department that contains a pay raise for troops, billions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

world Updated: Sep 25, 2008 09:40 IST

Bowing to President George W Bush's demands, the House of Representatives passed a mammoth package for the US Defence Department that contains a pay raise for troops, billions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and some political protection for lawmakers during a tense election season.

The 392-39 vote on Wednesday sent the US $612 billion defence authorisation bill to the Senate, which was expected to clear it this week.

To earn Bush's signature rather than a veto, House and Senate negotiators dropped several provisions he opposed. They include a ban on private interrogators in US military detention facilities and what would have amounted to congressional veto power over a security pact with Iraq.

Not passing it before Congress adjourns this week was not an option six weeks out from an election in which voters will choose a new president, every seat in the House and a 33 of the 100 senators. Democrats made clear early that any Republican efforts to block the bill would be characterised as disrespect for military personnel.

However, negotiators dealt with objections from some Senate Republicans to US $5 billion in pet projects not requested by Bush, called earmarks. In the compromise, the earmarks are listed in a table accompanying the legislation.

"We're very thankful to have a chance to get the bill passed," said Republican Rep Todd Aiken.

A separate bill would have to be passed to spend the money cleared by the authorisation bill.

The measure would permit US $612.5 billion in spending for national defence programmes in 2009, including US $68.6 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes a 3.9 per cent pay increase for military personnel, half a percentage point more than Bush requested.