House approves $649 billion for defense in 2012
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A $649 billion defense spending bill for next year easily passed the House of Representatives on Friday after four days of debate in which war-weary lawmakers sought to curb President Barack Obama's combat operations in Afghanistan and Libya.
The measure, approved 336-87 in the Republican-dominated House, would raise the Pentagon's base budget for the 2012 fiscal year beginning on October 1 by about $17 billion over current levels, despite intense pressure to slash the $1.4 trillion U.S. deficit.
The House cut about $8 billion from Obama's overall defense spending request, voting to provide about $530 billion for the Pentagon's primary budget and another $119 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Obama asked for about $690 billion for military spending for 2012. This House bill does not include funds for U.S. nuclear weapons programs or military construction, which come in other bills and add about $33 billion to defense spending.
The House measure includes $5.9 billion to buy 32 Lockheed Martin's radar-evading F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, $15.1 billion to build 10 Navy ships and $3.3 billion for 28 Boeing F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets and 12 EA-18 Growler electronic warfare aircraft.
Congress is still weeks away from approving a final military spending bill ready for Obama to sign into law. The House bill will have to be melded with whatever measure is approved by the Senate, which is still working on its plan.
ANGER OVER AFGHANISTAN, LIBYA
The House considered more than four dozen amendments over four days. Lawmakers seeking a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan and upset with Obama's decision to intervene in Libya's conflict repeatedly introduced measures trying to force a change in U.S. war policies. They were largely unsuccessful.
Efforts to revoke spending for combat operations in Afghanistan to hasten U.S. troop withdrawals were voted down, and attempts to bar the Pentagon from using its funds to enforce the NATO-led no-fly zone over Libya fared no better.
Republican Representative Tom Cole narrowly won a ban on military spending to train or equip rebels fighting to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Cole, one of many lawmakers upset by Obama's failure to consult with Congress about intervening in Libya's conflict, hailed the vote as a reassertion of congressional authority to authorize and fund U.S. wars.
But Senator John McCain, a fellow Republican, criticized the House action, saying it sent the wrong message to Gaddafi and abandoned traditional Republican support for "those fighting for freedom and democracy."
In another sign of anger over Obama's handling of the Libya conflict, the House voted to bar the Pentagon from spending 2012 funds on anything that violates the War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to seek congressional authorization within 60 days of committing U.S. troops to hostilities.
"Libya is a war the House loves to hate but hates to stop," John Isaacs, director of the Council for a Livable World said in an analysis of the votes. "The upshot of this confused message: The president can continue to carry out a war in Libya with no hindrance from Congress and no compliance with the War Powers Act."
BATTLE OF THE BANDS REVISITED
Penny-conscious lawmakers concerned about the $1.4 trillion U.S. deficit and $14.3 trillion debt sought to hasten the government's austerity drive by slicing money from Pentagon funding, but they fared little better than the war opponents.
Efforts to cut billion-dollar sums from various defense accounts were voted down. One of the most successful budget-cutting efforts was led by Representative Betty McCollum, a Democrat who doggedly pressed her drive to slash more than $120 million for military bands.
McCollum shepherded the cut through the Appropriations Committee, only to see it defeated on a voice vote in the full House.
She introduced a last-minute amendment to reinstate the cuts and won by forcing a roll-call vote on Thursday evening, leaving the military with $200 million to spend on more than 200 bands with 4,600 musicians and staff.
The Republican-led body expressed its opposition to last year's decision to lift a ban on gays serving openly in the military -- a policy due to take effect shortly once Pentagon leaders certify the services are ready.
The House voted to bar the Pentagon from spending any money that would violate a U.S. law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)