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Posted On : 19 Sep, 2017  Source : AP  Place : Washington 
Senate backs bill to pump USD 700 billion into military
The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a sweeping policy bill that would pump USD 700 billion into the military, putting the US armed forces on track for a budget greater than at any time during the decade-plus wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senators passed the legislation by a 89-8 vote today. The measure authorises USD 700 billion in military spending for the fiscal year that begins October 1, expands US missile defences in response to North Korea's growing hostility and refuses to allow excess military bases to be closed.

The 1,215-page measure defies a number of White House objections, but President Donald Trump hasn't threatened to veto the measure. The bill helps him honour a pledge to rebuild an American military that he said had become depleted on former President Barack Obama's watch.

Senator John McCain, Republican resentative from Arizona, and other national security hawks have insisted the military branches are at risk of losing their edge in combat without a dramatic influx of money to repair shortfalls in training and equipment.

Congress' failure to supply adequate budgets is at least partly responsible for a series of deadly ship collisions and helicopter crashes, according to McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman.

McCain, who is battling an aggressive type of brain cancer, guided the bill toward passage as he railed against Washington gridlock and political gamesmanship. But he couldn't quell disputes among his colleagues over several contentious amendments that were blocked from votes and failed to be added to the bill.

Among them was a proposal by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, that would have protected transgender service members from being kicked out of the armed forces. Gillibrand and McCain seek to achieve the same goal through separate legislation they introduced late last week.

That bill also is supported by Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services panel.

Approved by the Armed Services Committee by a 27-0 vote in late June, the overall Senate bill provides USD 640 billion for core Pentagon operations, such as buying weapons and paying troops, and another USD 60 billion for wartime missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Trump's budget request sought USD 603 billion for basic functions and USD 65 billion for overseas missions.

With North Korea's nuclear program a growing threat to the US and its allies, the bill includes USD 8.5 billion to strengthen US missile and defence systems. That's USD 630 million more than the Trump administration sought for those programmes, according to a committee analysis.

North Korea last week conducted its longest-ever test flight of a ballistic missile, firing an intermediate-range weapon over US ally Japan into the northern Pacific Ocean. The launch signalled both defiance of its rivals and a significant technological advance.

The legislation directs the Deafence Department to deploy up to 14 additional ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, an increase that will expand to 58 the number of interceptors designed to destroy incoming warheads.

The department also is tasked with finding a storage site for as many as 14 other spare interceptors, and senators envision an eventual arsenal of 100 with additional missile fields in the Midwest and on the East Coast.