WASHINGTON — The House defied the Pentagon on Thursday, overwhelmingly backing a $601 billion defense authorization bill that saves the Cold War-era U-2 spy plane, military bases, and Navy cruisers despite warnings that it will undercut military readiness.
A White House veto threat, reiterated hours before the vote, had little impact in an election year as lawmakers embraced the popular measure that includes a 1.8 percent pay raise for the troops and adds up to hundreds of thousands of jobs back home. The vote was 325 to 98 for the legislation, with 216 Republicans and 109 Democrats backing the bill.
Hours later, the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee announced the completion of its version of the bill that backs several of the Pentagon proposals while breaking with the administration on some weapons.
Most notably, the Senate panel “created a path to close Guantanamo,” said the committee’s chairman, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, a long-sought goal of President Obama. Under a provision, the administration would have to produce a comprehensive plan for transferring terror suspects from the US naval facility in Cuba that would be subject to a congressional vote.
The Senate panel backed the administration on some personnel benefits and a 1 percent pay raise for the military, while breaking with the administration by sparing the A-10 Warthog close-support plane and an aircraft carrier.
Certain to frustrate the administration was a provision that would authorize the military to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels battling forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
The Senate bill must be reconciled with the House version.
Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon, Republican of California and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, defended his House bill and rejected the suggestion that the measure was a “sop to parochial interests,” arguing it makes “the tough decisions that put the troops first.”
But the panel’s top Democrat, Representative Adam Smith of Washington state, complained that the House rejected the Pentagon’s cost-saving proposals and came up with no alternatives.
“We ducked every difficult decision,” Smith said.
With the ending of two wars and diminishing budgets, the Pentagon had proposed retiring the U-2 and the A-10, taking 11 Navy cruisers out of the normal rotation for modernization, and increasing out-of-pocket costs for housing and health care.
Republicans and Democrats rejected the Pentagon budget, sparing the aircraft, ships, and troop benefits.
An increasingly antagonistic White House issued a veto threat on Monday, and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough reinforced that message in a private meeting with House Democrats on Tuesday morning. Late Wednesday, the White House issued another veto threat over restrictions in the bill on President Obama’s ability to transfer terror suspects from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.