House passes $576B defense spending bill

House passes $576B defense spending bill
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The House on Thursday passed a $576 billion defense spending bill, defying the Obama administration’s concerns that the bill would shortchange a war fund next year.

The vote was largely along party lines but easily cleared the chamber with a 282-138 margin — a stark contrast to the sinking of the Energy Department's spending bill over a fight on LGBT rights. After the energy bill debacle, similar LGBT amendments were blocked from coming to the House floor for the defense bill.

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The defense appropriations bill would provide $575.7 billion for defense spending. The total is divided into $517.1 billion for base requirements and $58.6 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

But of the total OCO account, $15.7 billion would be used for base requirements such as readiness, infrastructure and modernization.

That would leave war funding dry by April 2017, forcing the next president to request supplemental funding when he or she takes office if overseas operations are to continue.

Republicans argue that the OCO money is needed for necessities such as more troops and equipment and a higher-than-requested pay raise for service members.

“This bill ensures that our military receives the 2.1 percent pay raise they deserve instead of the 1.6 percent pay raise requested by President Obama,” Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) said Wednesday on the House floor. “This bill makes important investments in military readiness, providing for equipment procurement for each of the service branches. We are sending far too many of our service members into harm’s way with outdates or damaged equipment.”

Democrats argue the bill would set up a fiscal cliff that could leave troops deployed overseas without the money they need to keep fighting.

“This is robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it’s not how any rational citizen would run a household budget. Why would the House majority endorse it?” Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday on the House floor.

The White House has threatened to the veto the bill, citing as its chief concern the how OCO funds are used.

In addition to the fight over how the money is appropriated, the debate on the House floor saw fights over a number of amendments.

Amendments from Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarOvernight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments House rejects proposal to boost Interior watchdog’s funding GOP lawmaker speaks at rally for jailed anti-Muslim activist in UK MORE (R-Ariz.) sought to bar immigrants in the country illegally from enlisting in the military. The amendments narrowly failed, with one vote at 210-211 and the other at 207-214.

Another amendment, from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), would have reformed U.S. surveillance powers, but was voted down 198-222.

The Guantanamo Bay detention facility was also an issue during floor debate. On Wednesday, an amendment was passed by voice vote that would prohibit all transfers of detainees out of Guantanamo, which would be the strongest transfer prohibition yet if enacted.

On Thursday, the House also voted 245-175 to pass a prohibition on using funds to survey, assess or review a stateside alternative to Guantanamo. The amendment is an apparent rebuke to a provision in the Senate's defense policy bill that would specify funds authorized by the bill could be used to plan or design a Guantanamo alternative on U.S. soil.

"If it's against the law to bring dangerous terrorists to the United States, why would we allow the Obama administration to study, using taxpayer dollars, how it would try to do this?" Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said Wednesday. "Why would we want any administration to study how it can break the law?"

Supporters of voting for a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) specifically for the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attempted again to force a debate on the issue by filing an amendment that would cut off funds for the war unless an AUMF is passed.

“Perhaps we lack the courage or perhaps we’re satisfied to allow these wars to run on auto-pilot,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the amendment’s sponsor, said on the floor Thursday. “Our inaction is wrong. It’s an insult to our troops. Whether you want to expand these wars or end these wars, we should all agree we should vote on an AUMF.”

That amendment failed 135-285.

Another amendment, offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), would have declared that no funds in the bill could be used for the 2001 AUMF, which the Obama administration says gives it the authority to undertake the war against ISIS. It failed 146-274.

Opponents of the AUMF amendments argued that it’s a policy issue that doesn’t belong in an appropriations bill.

“Our nation needs to retain this validated congressionally approved authorization for the use of military force to contain the fight against terrorism around the world,” Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenOvernight Energy: Proposed rule would roll back endangered species protections | House passes Interior, EPA spending | House votes to disavow carbon tax House completes first half of 2019 spending bills 'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled MORE (R-N.J.) said. “This amendment makes a major policy change that does not belong in our bill.”