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Senate panel approves freeze in defense spending

WASHINGTON -- Pressured to slash government spending, a Senate panel on Thursday unanimously approved a $513 billion bill that freezes the Pentagon budget at this year's amount, slicing some $26 billion from President Barack Obama's request.

On a vote of 30-0, the Senate Appropriations Committee pushed ahead legislation that would provide a 1.6 percent pay raise for military personnel, would trim nearly 600 military programs and would take a significant chunk of $695 million from the troubled Joint Strike Fighter aircraft program. In addition to the overall bill, the measure also would provide nearly $118 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bill reflects the spending level spelled out in the debt accord reached this past summer by Obama and congressional Republicans amid the clamor in Washington for fiscal belt-tightening and deficit cutting. It stands as the first installment in defense cuts of $350 billion over a decade

The bill is $17 billion less than what the House approved and lawmakers will have to work out the difference. With the start of the next fiscal year just 15 days away, Congress is likely to roll the various spending bills into a single, mammoth measure.

In considering the bill, the committee managed to sidestep two amendments that would have reverberated diplomatically in Istanbul, Moscow and Jerusalem.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., sought to prohibit money for a new early warning radar in southeast Turkey unless the Obama administration could reassure Congress that all data from the system could be used to protect Israel.

The freshman lawmaker insisted on the U.S. siding with Israel in the increasingly hostile showdown between former allies Turkey and Israel.