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U.S. House Passes Defense Authorization Bill

May. 26, 2011 - 03:45AM   |  
By KATE BRANNEN   |   Comments
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By a vote of 322 to 96, the U.S. House of Representatives on May 26 passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, which includes a $690 billion Pentagon budget.

The Pentagon had requested a $553 billion base budget and $118 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House bill fully funds those requests and also provides funding for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration.

Before becoming law, the Senate will have to vote on its own version and then the two bills will need to be reconciled before heading to President Barack Obama for his signature.

There are several measures in the House legislation that will make reconciliation with the Senate very difficult. And the White House announced earlier in the week that it objects to several of the bill's amendments, including measures that restrict the president's ability to reduce the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile as part of the New START Treaty with Russia.

The bill also ties the president's hands when it comes to transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay. A Republican proposal, which passed, said detainees could not be tried on U.S. soil.

The legislation also includes language that allows for continued development on a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a program the Pentagon has repeatedly said is unnecessary. However, the bill does not include additional funding for the General Electric-Rolls Royce engine.

"If the final bill presented to the president includes funding or a legislative direction to continue an extra engine program, the president's senior advisers would recommend a veto," the White House statement said.

Measures to reduce the defense budget did not pass, despite growing concern about federal discretionary spending and its contribution to the national deficit.

A Democratic proposal that would return Defense Department spending to 2008 levels, with exemptions for personnel and health accounts, was withdrawn. The House rejected by voice vote a separate proposal that would freeze Department of Defense funding at current levels until the Pentagon successfully passed an audit.

The House bill does make cuts to some weapons programs, but directs those savings back into the Pentagon toward "higher priorities."

"With the tough fiscal times facing our country, the bill treats every taxpayer dollar as precious," House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement.

Among the programs deemed wasteful were military bands and the U.S. Institute of Peace. The House voted to cap spending for military bands at $200 million.

By a vote of 226 to 194, the House voted to de-authorize the United States Institute of Peace, an independent, nonpartisan organization created by Congress in the early 1980s. In 2005, Congress appropriated $100 million to build the Institute's permanent headquarters in Washington.

Republicans argued the country could not afford the organization and that its efforts are duplicative of those of the Defense Department and the State Department.

The organization managed the Iraq Study Group's work and, at Congress' request, it facilitated the task force on U.N. reform, the strategic posture review and a review of the latest Quadrennial Defense Review.

While the debate between the parties was sometimes passionate, there were moments of bipartisanship, including a vote of 416 to 5 in support of a proposal that would prohibit U.S. ground forces from operating in Libya.

A bipartisan proposal calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan failed by a vote of 234 to 184.

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