August 1, 2006

Senate votes $13 billion for Army, Marines

By Kristin Roberts and Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As lawmakers decried the strain on
the U.S. military from the Iraq war, the Senate on Tuesday
unanimously approved $13.1 billion for emergency repairs and
replacement of Army and Marine Corp equipment.

The Senate approved the measure on a voice vote with no
debate after Democrats accused the White House of letting the
war weaken the military's ability to take on missions.

Democrats had planned to push to add $10.2 billion in
emergency funds for the Army and Marines to a $453.5 billion
bill to fund the Pentagon. But Alaska Republican Sen. Ted
Stevens, who chairs the Appropriations defense subcommittee,
beat them to it.

Stevens said the amendment would provide $7.8 billion for
the Army and $5.3 billion for the Marine Corps. That comes on
top of the $50 billion already in the bill to Iraq and
Afghanistan operations into early next year.

The long deployments in the harsh environments of Iraq and
Afghanistan have taken a steep toll on aircraft, vehicles and
other equipment.

Senate Democrats released a letter from a panel of defense
and foreign policy experts, which said two-thirds of the Army's
operating force was not ready for action largely because of
faulty equipment and a lack of supplies.

National Guard chief Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said the problem
was worse for his force and it will need $21 billion to meet
basic equipment needs.

On top of funding needs for the part-time Guard, the
active-duty Army has estimated a $17.1 billion shortfall. And
the Marine Corps said it faces an $11.8 billion bill to replace
or repair equipment over four to five years.

"I'm not talking about icing on the cake, I'm talking about
the cake," Blum said of the Guard's needs. "I'm talking about
basic things -- trucks, communications, engineer equipment,
helicopters, night-vision devices, radios."

By September 30, the end of this fiscal year, the United
States will have spent about $450 billion on the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, contributing to huge U.S. budget deficits.

With three months to go to congressional elections,
Democrats have chastised the Bush administration for
shortchanging the military's needs during two costly wars.

"Very chilling comments of the leaders of our uniformed
services have been sounding the alarm of what they call a
readiness gap," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut
Democrat. He said the Army was "very much worse off today" than
during the Clinton administration, when Congress raised
concerns over its lack of readiness.

According to the letter from the defense and foreign policy
experts, the Army's ability to take on missions has not been
this degraded since the Vietnam War era.

"This is particularly dangerous at a time when the United
States is engaged in a global effort to counter terrorism and
is facing numerous crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran
and North Korea," the panel said in a letter signed by William
Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration, and

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan)