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US Congress passes huge $886 billion defense budget for 2024

Washington: The US Congress approved a staggering defense budget of $886 billion for 2024 on Thursday, while also extending a controversial overseas electronic surveillance system widely used by US intelligence services.

The vast spending bill, adopted in the House of Representatives after a vote in the Senate on Wednesday, provides billions of dollars to “enhance US deterrence and defense posture in the Indo-Pacific region” and counter China’s rising influence there.

The document also extends a military aid program to Ukraine, allowing the gradual release of $300 million for Kyiv.

That sum is much less than the separate $61 billion requested by the US and Ukrainian presidents from Congress by the end of the year, a gigantic package for arming Ukraine that is still being debated.

The bill also extends by several months a law governing overseas electronic surveillance of foreign individuals, which has been widely criticized by privacy groups and which was about to expire.

The program allows US security services to conduct electronic surveillance programs – including through email snooping – of non-US nationals abroad, without seeking a judicial warrant.

FBI Director Christopher Wray this week urged Congress to renew the law, arguing that allowing it to lapse would be equivalent to “unilateral disarmament.”

The new budget also gives a five-per cent pay hike to military personnel.

The bill did not include additional measures put forward by Republicans to restrict access to abortion for military personnel and prohibit the Pentagon from flying the LGBT+ pride flag on its bases.

The document of more than 3,000 pages will now go to the desk of President Joe Biden for final approval.

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