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US House passes huge defense spending bill

19 may 2012, 17:59
0
Photo courtesy of 123rf.com
Photo courtesy of 123rf.com
US lawmakers passed a sweeping defense spending bill Friday, defying the White House by exceeding a budget cap and refusing to make cuts outlined in President Barack Obama's revamped military strategy, AFP reports.

By a vote of 299-120, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which provides $554 billion in baseline military expenditures for the Defense Department and other related agencies for the coming fiscal year.

A further $88.5 billion will be dedicated to the war in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism efforts.

In one of its most controversial previsions, the bill effectively approves the indefinite detention of terror suspects, an issue which brought together an unlikely coalition of Democrats and Republicans who argued, unsuccessfully, that the move could result in government overreach.

It also sought to harden Washington's policy on Iran, approving the use of US force against the Islamic republic if the Tehran regime threatens the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons.

And it expressed support for deploying tactical nuclear weapons to East Asia as a deterrent to an "increasingly belligerent" North Korea.

The spending blueprint now moves to the Democratic-held Senate.

Obama has already threatened to veto the sprawling bill, which is $8 billion above the cap set by last year's Budget Control Act, and nearly $4 billion beyond what his administration had asked for as it seeks to reduce the US budget deficit.

Democrats argue that Republicans, eager to slash runaway spending, are seeking to make drastic cuts to discretionary domestic programs but are upping the ante with the military.

A strong Republican majority was able to push through key provisions including authorization to purchase 29 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, the requirement to sell 66 new F-16s to Taiwan to help the island close its military gap with China, and a prohibition on transfer of Guantanamo terror suspects to the United States.

It stops the Pentagon's plan to retire several aircraft and ships, approves a 1.7-percent salary increase for military personnel, slows the discharge of thousands of troops, and urges the president to maintain "at least 68,000 troops" in Afghanistan through the end of 2014.

It also restricts the president's ability to decommission some nuclear weapons unless he can prove Russia has taken sufficient steps under the new START treaty signed in 2010 by the two countries.

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 US military is facing $600 billion in automatic cuts over the next decade 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.

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."

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 US 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 September 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.


By Michael Mathes

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