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Thursday May 18, 2000

Senate Panel Approves Defense Bill

WASHINGTON ( AP ) - A Senate committee approved a $287 billion defense bill Thursday containing $460 million for a controversial amphibious assault ship being built in Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's home state of Mississippi.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 27-0 to approve the bill, which is for fiscal 2001. The measure has $3 billion more than President Clinton requested, and is about a $20 billion increase over this year.

The bill has a $460 million installment for continued work on an LHD-8 amphibious helicopter carrier, which costs $1.5 billion.

Critics have complained that the ship, being built in Lott's hometown of Pascagoula, was not requested by the Navy, which preferred to refurbish one of its older carriers instead of buying a new one . The Republican leader has argued that the project will let the Navy modernize an important part of its fleet.

The bill also contains $285 million for cost-overruns in construction of four LPD-17 amphibious transport ships, and $4.1 billion for U.S. operations in Kosovo, Bosnia and the Persian Gulf.

A House subcommittee approved a version of the bill last week that is $1 billion larger than the Senate's.

The Senate committee also approved a $1.7 billion measure financing Congress' own operations that contains slight increases for most programs.

The $1.8 billion House version of the bill cut spending by 6 percent from this year's levels. Democrats complained that it would force the elimination of 1,600 jobs, including legislative aides and Capitol police officers.

Each chamber's bill finances only its own budget plus joint operations like the Congressional Budget Office. When combined, the measures will total $2.5 billion, about $40 million more than this year.