WASHINGTON - Ignoring a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House approved a $642 billion defense budget Friday that breaks a deficit-cutting deal with President Obama and restricts his authority in an election-year challenge to the commander in chief.
The House voted 299 to 120 for the fiscal 2013 spending blueprint that authorizes money for weapons, aircraft, ships, and the war in Afghanistan - $8 billion more than Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to last summer in the clamor for fiscal austerity.
Insisting they are stronger on defense than the president, Republicans crafted a bill that calls for construction of a missile defense site on the East Coast that the military opposes, bars reductions in the nation’s nuclear arsenal, and reaffirms the indefinite detention without trial of suspected terrorists, even US citizens captured on American soil.
The divisive GOP provisions will have a short shelf life, as the Democratic-controlled Senate is likely to scrap many of them and stick to the spending level in the deficit-cutting agreement.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met privately last week with senators to support the president’s proposed budget, a blueprint the Pentagon says is based on a new military strategy focused on Asia, the Middle East, and cyberspace as the nation emerges from two long wars. The Senate Armed Services Committee will craft its version of the budget next week.
The House bill is not only a political salvo against Obama, who nevertheless gets high marks after the killing of Osama bin Laden and success in the war on terrorism, but a reflection of the stranglehold the defense industry has on Congress. Weapons, aircraft carriers, and jet fighters mean jobs back home, and lawmakers are loath to cut funds for the military, the biggest government program outside such entitlements as Medicare and Social Security.
In a political shot on the House floor, Representative Howard “Buck’’ McKeon, a California Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, accused Democrats of “taking all of the jobs out of the military.’’
For the endless Washington talk of dealing with the nation’s debilitating debt, the bill outlines a base defense budget of $554 billion, including nuclear weapons spending, plus $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts.
Conservative and Tea Party Republicans prevailed on a series of amendments Friday, dealing a blow to the business community and GOP establishment on one measure. Reviving Cold War arguments, they rejected the notion that Senate ratification of an arms control treaty with Russia in December 2010 has long been settled and that the president has the authority to enforce the pact. Their words of warning about Russia echoed those of probable Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The House soundly backed amendments prohibiting the president from making unilateral reductions to the US nuclear arsenal and imposing limits on the ability of the administration to cut the stockpile.
For Massachusetts, several measures sponsored by Bay State lawmakers were adopted, including an amendment to prevent the Air Force from cutting staff or restructuring the mission at the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford without congressional approval.
The facility is set to lose several hundred personnel and later this year would begin to report to a command in Ohio as part of the Air Force’s belt-tightening.
The House also backed an agreement between MIT and the Air Force to upgrade laboratory facilities at the federally-funded Lincoln Labs at Hanscom. MIT would finance the project.
Both measures were sponsored by Niki Tsongas, Democrat of Lowell and a member of the Armed Services Committee. Tsongas was the only member of the all-Democratic Massachusetts delegation to vote for the overall bill.
A proposal to reverse planned cuts to Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod was voted down in the House late Thursday. Representative William Keating’s amendment would have stripped $36 million from the $400 million in additional funds Republicans seek for a nationwide missile shield and instead use it to finance the 102d Air Operations Group at Otis for another year.
The detention issue created an unusual political coalition in Congress, uniting Democrats and some Tea Party Republicans.
Conservatives fear the divisive policy established last year could result in unfettered power for the government and trample long-held constitutional rights. The policy, contained in the current defense law, was based on the post-Sept. 11 authorization for the use of military force that allows indefinite detention of enemy combatants. Several Democrats criticized the provision as an example of government overreach and an unnecessary obstacle to the Obama administration’s war against terrorism.
The policy denies suspected terrorists, including US citizens seized within the nation’s borders, the right to trial and subjects them to the possibility they would be held indefinitely.
When Obama signed the bill on Dec. 31, he issued a statement saying he had serious reservations about provisions on the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists. Such signing statements are common and allow presidents to raise constitutional objections to circumvent Congress’s intent.
Globe reporter Bryan Bender contributed to this report.