Special operations gets funding in Pentagon non-war budget

Staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON — Congress approved a big boost in the Pentagon’s non-war budget late Thursday.

The budget includes money for Air Force Special Operations to modify CV-22 Ospreys and other funding that will boost several programs in eastern New Mexico, according to a press release from U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

Cannon Air Force Base, a special operations wing, will eventually be home to CV-22 Ospreys, Air Force officials have said.

The $471 billion defense budget — awarding the Pentagon with a 9 percent, $40 billion budget increase — passed the House by a 400-15 vote.

The Senate cleared the bill for Bush by a voice vote late Thursday. The bill will be forwarded for Bush to sign.

The Pentagon bill only funds core department operations, omitting Bush’s $196 billion request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, except for an almost $12 billion infusion for new troop vehicles that are resistant to roadside bombs.

Much of the increase in the defense bill is devoted to procuring new and expensive weapons systems, including $6.3 billion for the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, $2.8 billion for the Navy’s DD(X) destroyer and $3.1 billion for the new Virginia-class attack submarine.

The defense measure also provides enough money to give U.S. military personnel a 3.5 percent pay raise, an increase of half a percentage point over Bush’s budget request. The bill also provides $6 billion to finance growth in U.S. troop strength by 5,000 Marines and 7,000 Army soldiers.

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders put off plans to vote as early as Friday on a separate bill to provide a “bridge fund” of $50 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, contingent on Bush starting to bring troops home. Liberal Democrats were balking at providing the money, even with the strings attached.

A stopgap funding bill expires next week, so the defense measure contains an extension to keep government agencies open until Dec. 14.

Budget items of interest to eastern New Mexico:
• $453.7 million for Air Force purchase of CV-22s, and $238 million for Special Operations Forces to modify CV-22s
• $980.0 million for National Guard equipment nationwide, including New Mexico.
• $20 million to continue the National Guard’s counter-drug programs, including $3 million for the initiative in New Mexico. Overall, $984.8 million is provided for drug interdiction and counter-drug activities.
• $247 million to continue Operation Jump Start on the Southwest Border in 2008. The administration began Operation Jump-start in 2006 as a temporary border security measure to station National Guardsmen on the Southwest Border until more border patrol agents and border security technology can be put in place.