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House passes 2004 defense spending bill

The House on Tuesday approved a $368.7-billion defense spending bill that lawmakers said would support the Pentagon's goal of developing a more mobile, high-tech fighting force while preserving older weapons systems that proved their value in the Iraq war.

The bill for the year beginning Oct. 1 represents an increase of about 1.3 percent over the amount approved for this fiscal year _ not taking into account a $62.4-billion midyear spending bill that paid for the war in Iraq. The 2004 bill doesn't include the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which probably will be financed by another spending bill.

The bill was approved 399-19.

A similar bill was approved with bipartisan support Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. Most details of that bill will be withheld until the full committee considers it today, but senators described it as supporting President Bush's defense spending priorities.

Both bills are about $3-billion below Bush's request. Lawmakers are expected eventually to make up this gap this year.

Separately, a House panel approved $27.1-billion for the nation's nuclear weapons and water and energy projects for next year. The Senate has yet to write its energy-water bill.

Court deals blow to effort for energy talks privacy

WASHINGTON _ A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected Vice President Dick Cheney's bid to keep secret the workings of his energy task force, saying sufficient safeguards were in place to prevent the disclosure of genuinely privileged information.

The 2-1 ruling, by a panel of judges from the Court of Appeals, does not order the release of specific information, but it affirms the lower court judge's order seeking documents that would shed light on the membership of the Cheney group.

Drawing on two rulings rendered by the court against President Clinton, Judge David Tatel said the Cheney group had not shown that irreparable harm would be done if the lower court were allowed to proceed.

Bush's approval rating drops to 60 percent

WASHINGTON _ President Bush's approval ratings stood at 60 percent, down from 74 percent on April 9, in a survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The poll of 1,201 adults conducted June 19-July 2 found growing criticism of Bush's handling of key domestic issues. But only 38 percent said Democrats could do a better job on health care. The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.