WASHINGTON – The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday backed construction of a missile defense site on the East Coast, rejecting Pentagon arguments that the facility is unnecessary and Democratic complaints that the nearly $5 billion project amounts to wasteful spending in a time of tight budgets.

In rancorous, lengthy debate, Republicans insisted that the site is necessary in the event that Iran or North Korea develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of attacking the East Coast. Democrats countered that throwing billions at a missile defense system plagued by failures made no sense, especially when the threat from the two nations was highly uncertain and many in Washington are demanding fiscal discipline.

This “would be spending up to $5 billion in the next three years on a missile defense system that doesn’t work,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., who offered an amendment to eliminate the project.

The chief proponent of constructing the site, Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, said, “We need to proceed with missile defense whether this president wants to or not.” On a largely party-line vote, the panel rejected Garamendi’s effort, 33-28.

The committee fleshed out a blueprint for next year that calls for a base defense budget of $554 billion, including nuclear weapons spending, plus $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts. That compares with the administration’s proposal of $551 billion, plus $88 billion. The all-day session was expected to stretch into early this morning as the committee dealt with spending on weapons, troops and various policy issues.