House approves $633B defense policy bill

The House on Thursday evening passed the 2013 the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets Defense Department policy on a range of areas and authorizes $633 billion in spending in the current fiscal year.

Members approved the bill in a 315-107 vote that saw strong bipartisan support for the conference agreement that the House and Senate worked out over the last week. The Senate is expected to approve the conference report before leaving for Christmas, putting pressure on the White House, which has said it would veto the bill.

Supporters of the bill noted after the vote that the House approved it with a veto-proof majority.

One of the trickier parts of the bill throughout its consideration was language related to detainee policy, and that issue resurfaced during House debate. The House-passed bill affirmed that U.S. citizens have habeas corpus rights on U.S. soil, while the Senate bill said U.S. citizens could not be held under military detention indefinitely.

The final bill added new compromise language that says nothing in last year's NDAA or the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) would prevent the constitutional rights of those captured on U.S. soil from being infringed upon. Supporters of the bill said this change ensures that U.S. citizens will be protected and will retain the right of habeas corpus, even if suspected of terrorism.

"The protections included in the House-passed bill have been preserved in the conference agreement, and we worked closely during the conference negotiation with our House colleagues who exercised leadership on this issue to ensure that we retained their support," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said.

"Rest assured, this conference report ensures that every American's constitutional rights including the right to habeas corpus, remain unaffected, and every American can challenge the legality of their detention in federal court."

But some pointed out that the language does not protect U.S. citizens if they are arrested overseas, and said that issue still needs to be revisited.

"The language in this bill, combined with the prohibitions against moving these detainees into the United States, guarantees that we will continue holding people indefinitely without charge, contrary to our traditions of due process and civil rights," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said.

Another member, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), agreed that this issue is not resolved, but said he would still vote for the NDAA because it at least protects U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

During debate, several Democrats said they could not support the bill because it spends more than what is authorized under last year's Budget Control Act. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said that level of spending is excessive, especially in the context of GOP efforts to dodge the defense sequester and make more cuts to entitlement programs.

One element in the bill that some still oppose is a study on the creation of an East Coast missile defense site.

But the bill does not include some House GOP provisions that Democrats objected to, such as a ban on the military's use of biofuels and a ban on on same-sex marriage ceremonies on military bases.

Retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) spent several minutes on the House floor arguing that Congress needs to have a broad discussion about the mission of the military. He said currently, military assets are committed to various tasks, and then funding increases to meet those goals.

He suggested that a way around this is to cut back U.S. military aid to European countries, Japan and Russia, which he said are now developed enough to handle their own military needs. He said he disagrees with President Obama's statement that the U.S. is still an indispensable nation.

"The time has come for us to urge wealthy nations that face no significant threat to dispense with us from the standpoint of our military activity," he said.

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