$631 bil­lion de­fense bill OK’D by Se­nate

Re­stric­tions on ter­ror sus­pects prompt veto threat.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Donna Cas­sata

The Se­nate over­whelm­ingly ap­proved a sweep­ing, $631 bil­lion de­fense bill Tues­day that sends a clear sig­nal to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to move quickly to get U.S. com­bat troops out of Afghanistan, tight­ens sanc­tions on Iran and lim­its the pres­i­dent’s author­ity in han­dling ter­ror sus­pects.

Ig­nor­ing a veto threat by Obama, the Se­nate voted 98-0 for the leg­is­la­tion that au­tho­rizes money for weapons, air­craft and ships and pro­vides a 1.7 per­cent pay raise for mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

Af­ter a decade of in­creas­ing Pen­tagon bud­gets, the vote came against the back­drop of sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in pro­jected mil­i­tary spend­ing and the threat of deeper cuts from the loom­ing “fis­cal cliff” of au­to­matic spend­ing cuts and tax in­creases.

The bill re­flects the na­tion’s war-weari­ness af­ter more than a decade of fight­ing in Afghanistan, the messy un­cer­tainty about new threats to U.S. se­cu­rity and Washington belt-tight­en­ing in times of tril­lion-dol­lar-plus deficits. Spend­ing solely on the base de­fense bud­get has nearly dou­bled in the past 10 years, but the lat­est blue­print reins in the pro­jected growth in mil­i­tary dol­lars.

The bill would pro­vide some $526 bil­lion for the base de­fense bud­get, $17 bil­lion for de­fense pro­grams in the En­ergy De­part­ment and about $88 bil­lion for the war in Afghanistan. House and Se­nate ne­go­tia­tors must rec­on­cile their com­pet­ing ver­sions of the bill in the next few weeks.

“The ma­jor chal­lenge is time,” Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Carl Levin, DMich., told re­porters af­ter the vote.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has threat­ened to veto the Se­nate bill, strongly ob­ject­ing to a pro­vi­sion re­strict­ing the pres­i­dent’s author­ity to trans­fer ter­ror sus­pects from the U.S. prison at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, to for­eign coun­tries. The Se­nate also voted to re­strict the trans­fer of de­tainees held at Guan­tanamo to prisons in the United States.

Re­act­ing to the re­lent­less vi­o­lence in Syria, the Se­nate voted 92-6 to re­quire the Pen­tagon to report to Congress on the abil­ity of the U.S. mil­i­tary to im­pose a no-fly zone over Syria.

Sen. John McCain, RAriz., who has pushed for greater U.S. mil­i­tary involvement to end the Syr­ian civil war, spon­sored the amend­ment. Obama on Mon­day warned Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad not to use chem­i­cal or bi­olog- ical weapons against his peo­ple as the U.S. and its al­lies weigh mil­i­tary op­tions.

“If mil­i­tary ac­tion has to be taken to pre­vent sarin gas to be used, Congress has to be in­volved,” McCain said.

But Sen. Rand Paul, RKy., said it was a “bad idea to dis­cuss con­tin­gency plans for war.”

The amend­ment spec­i­fied that it should not be con­strued as a dec­la­ra­tion of war or an au­tho­riza­tion to use force.

Last year, Obama and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans agreed on nearly $500 bil­lion in de­fense cuts over 10 years.

If the two sides fail in the next month to avert the “fis­cal cliff” the Pen­tagon would face an ad­di­tional $55 bil­lion in au­to­matic, across-the-board cuts af­ter the first of the year.

Not far from the Capi­tol, a coali­tion of re­tired mil­i­tary lead­ers, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and law­mak­ers pleaded with the pres­i­dent and Congress to ad­dress the na­tion’s debt, call­ing it the great­est threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. The group of prom­i­nent Repub­li­cans and Democrats said the United States can spend less on de­fense while still main­tain­ing its mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity.

“A strong econ­omy and strong na­tional se­cu­rity are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked,” said re­tired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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