House approves $690 billion defense budget
WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives passed a $690 billion Pentagon budget Thursday that bars American ground forces in Libya and limits the Obama administration’s powers on handling Guantanamo detainees.
Lawmakers voted 322-96 in favor of the budget plan which met the Defense Department’s request for $119 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It also placed restrictions on President Barack Obama’s authority to reduce the US nuclear weapons stockpile under the new START treaty with Russia, prompting a White House veto threat earlier this week.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon said the bill “mandates fiscal responsibility within the Department of Defense” as the United States struggles to recover from its worst recession in decades by cutting “wasteful” programs and using the funds for “higher priorities.”
Shortly before passing the bill, which must now be reconciled with a Senate version, the House narrowly defeated by 215-204 an amendment demanding an accelerated timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“It’s more than people are weary,” said Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, who sponsored the measure. “They’re frustrated and not quite sure what we’re doing there. We got (Osama) bin Laden.”
Lawmakers also rejected by 234 votes to 184 a separate measure sponsored by Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz and Democrat Peter Welch calling for a US withdrawal from the nearly decade-old war now that the Al-Qaeda leader is dead at the hands of US special forces.
The vote nonetheless showed a significant increase in the number of legislators supporting a US pull-out.
In an overwhelming 416-5 vote, lawmakers barred US troops or private security contractors from operating on the ground in Libya, where rebels are fighting a fierce war against loyalist forces to oust longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi, except to rescue a US service member from “imminent danger.”
Another approved measure “would clarify that the United States Congress has not authorized military actions in Libya,” reflecting lawmakers’ complaints that Obama had violated the 1973 War Powers Resolution by not obtaining congressional approval for US military operations there.
Anti-war Congressman Dennis Kucinich said the votes indicated “growing” opposition to the now NATO-led air war in Libya, which the Pentagon says will cost the United States an estimated $750 million by the end of September.
“Congress is not satisfied with the blank check that this administration has written for itself to conduct the Libyan war,” said the Ohio Democrat, who has proposed a resolution due to be debated next week that directs Obama to withdraw all US forces from the fight.
“Congress has drawn a line in the sand. We will not stand for mission creep that puts boots on the ground in Libya. Further attempts to expand the Libyan war will not be tolerated,” he said.
Lawmakers backed a Republican proposal to keep terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, where they would be prosecuted in special military tribunals, and barring them from being tried on US soil.
The measure would also complicate Obama administration efforts to transfer to third countries any of the 171 detainees who remain at the US naval base in southern Cuba.
“Terrorists with ties to known terror organizations such as Al-Qaeda should not be afforded the same constitutional protections as American citizens,” said Representative Vern Buchanan, the Republican who sponsored the amendment.
“Using military tribunals to interrogate, prosecute and sentence foreign terrorists who conspire or attack the United States is a far better way to handle these kinds of sensitive matters.”
The defense bill would prevent the Obama administration from spending public funds to retire any nuclear warheads covered by the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia unless it certifies the remaining arsenal would be modernized.
It also limits funding for a new generation of fighter jets — the F-35 — unless an alternate engine is developed, which the Obama administration has opposed as an unnecessary cost. The White House objected to that requirement as well.