The Republican-led House of Representatives voted on Friday to authorize $642.5 billion in defense spending next year, defying a White House veto threat by adding several billion dollars to President Barack Obama’s Pentagon budget request.
The House approved the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which added nearly $4 billion to the president’s spending plan, in a 299-120 vote just days after moving to shield the defense budget from further cuts by slashing social programs.
The vote on Friday sets up a confrontation over defense spending with the White House, which has warned of a presidential veto, and the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has yet to approve its version of the measure, according to Reuters.
The authorization bill lets Congress set defense policy and authorize spending limits but it does not actually appropriate funds. The panel that actually controls the purse strings -- the House Appropriations Committee -- this week approved similar but slightly lower spending levels for defense.
The measure approved on Friday authorized a base defense budget of $554 billion, including Pentagon spending as well as nuclear defense activities of the Energy Department. The House authorized $88.5 billion for the Afghanistan war and other overseas operations.
The bill would delay or reverse many of the cuts sought by the Pentagon as part of efforts to reduce defense spending by $487 billion over the next decade. Congress ordered the spending cuts last year in an effort to rein in the government's trillion dollar deficits.
In addition to setting spending levels, the authorization bill reaffirmed the president’s power to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists arrested in the United States and transfer them to military custody.
House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard McKeon said the bill, coming in “an era of austerity,” helps “restore strategy and sanity to the defense budget and rebuild our military after a decade of war.”
The U.S. military is facing $600 billion in cuts over the next decade under a process known as sequestration should Congress not be able to resolve a looming budget crisis at the end of 2012.
“Despite a tough fiscal environment, we have provided our armed forces with the tools they need to win the war today and deter against the wars of tomorrow,” McKeon added, according to AFP.
But the committee’s ranking Democrat Adam Smith took issue with what he described as the bill’s “overly confrontational language in the cases of Russia, North Korea, Iran and China, to name a few.”
Smith was co-sponsor, along with Republican Justin Amash, of an amendment that would have scaled back existing legislation that allows the government to indefinitely hold suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, captured on American soil.
“Leaving these powers on the books is not only a dangerous threat to our civil liberties, but also undermines one of our strongest assets in trying suspected terrorists: (federal) courts and domestic law enforcement,” Smith and Amash said in an opinion piece in Friday’s Politico newspaper.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, “the federal government has successfully prosecuted more than 400 defendants charged with crimes related to international terrorism,” they said.
“That is a proven track record of success that we should embrace.”
Obama expressed his own concerns last year about the indefinite detention of US citizens, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the Smith-Amash amendment would have addressed those issues.
But the amendment was opposed by national security hawks including Senator John McCain, who warned it “would tie the hands of this president and his successors” by forcing terror suspects into the federal civilian justice system.