Senate Moves Ahead on Defense Bill Facing Veto Threat


WASHINGTON -- The Senate moved forward Tuesday on a sweeping, $612 billion defense policy bill despite a presidential veto threat stemming from larger budget disputes that have hamstrung Washington.

The vote was 73-26, 13 votes more than necessary to break any filibuster. The Senate is expected to pass the measure Wednesday and send it to President Barack Obama.

The Obama administration has pressed Congress to add money for defense and domestic agencies above the limits imposed by the 2011 budget deal. The administration is threatening to veto the defense bill over how Congress added money -- for the military only.

Lawmakers increased defense spending by padding a separate war-fighting account with an extra $38.3 billion. That account is not subject to the spending limits Congress and the White House agreed to in 2011.

The president's press secretary, Josh Earnest, called it an "irresponsible way to fund our national defense priorities." Defense Secretary Ash Carter has referred to the action as a "gimmick" that "attempts to evade the question of overall fiscal responsibility."

The defense policy bill is one of the few bipartisan measures in Congress that has readily become law for more than a half-century, but Obama's veto threat jeopardizes the legislation.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said it would be "shameful" for the president to veto the bill. Republicans have argued that the measure helps the troops, and it would be short-sighted to stop the legislation in light of national security threats.

"This is for the men and women of the military. This is to defend the nation. This would be one of the most disgraceful acts of any president," McCain told reporters after the vote.

The policy bill maintains restrictions on transferring terror suspects out of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, provides a 1.3 percent pay increase to service members, authorizes lethal assistance to Ukraine forces fighting Russian-backed rebels, extends the ban on torture to the CIA and authorizes the president's request of $715 million to help Iraqi forces fight Islamic State militants.

The legislation also would:

-- continue support for Afghanistan's security forces and requires the president to report on the risks associated with his plan to drawdown U.S. troops there. Obama announced in March that he would slow the troop withdrawal and maintain 9,800 through the end of this year in Afghanistan, where the Taliban this week captured a strategic northern city.

-- increases from 4,000 to 7,000 the number of special immigrant visas for Afghans who assisted U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and now are facing threats.

-- authorizes $600 million for the beleaguered U.S.-led program to train and equip moderate elements of the Syrian opposition force, but requires the defense secretary to get congressional approval each time he wants to use money for the program.

-- restores funding for the A-10 close air support plane and prohibits its retirement.

-- directs the defense secretary to issue a policy to empower individual post commanders to decide whether members of the armed forces can carry government-issued or personal fire arms at military installations, reserve centers and recruiting centers. This provision follows shootings in Little Rock, Arkansas; Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Fort Hood, Texas.

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