* Measure includes war funding of $88.5 billion
* Concerns expressed over confrontational language in bill
* President's power to detain suspected terrorists affirmed
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, May 18 The Republican-led House of
Representatives voted on Friday to authorize $642.5 billion in
defense and war spending next year, defying a White House veto
threat by exceeding President Barack Obama's Pentagon funding
request by several billion dollars.
The House, in a 299-120 vote on its annual defense policy
bill, also affirmed that the president has the power to
indefinitely detain suspected terrorists arrested in the United
States and transfer them to military custody.
The House's approval of the National Defense Authorization
Act sets up a confrontation over defense spending and policy
with the White House, which has warned of a presidential veto,
and the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has not completed
its version of the bill.
The measure authorized a base defense budget of $554
billion, including Pentagon spending and nuclear defense
activities of the Energy Department. The House authorized $88.5
billion for the Afghanistan war and other overseas operations.
Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed
Services Committee, said the act imposed fiscal responsibility
on the Pentagon while providing it with "the tools they need to
win the war today and deter against the wars of tomorrow."
His Democratic counterpart, Representative Adam Smith,
endorsed the overall direction of the bill but said he was
troubled by "overly confrontational language" in sections
spelling out policies related to Russia, North Korea and Iran.
The measure calls for the United States to "take all
necessary measures, including military action if required, to
prevent Iran from threatening the United States, its allies or
Iran's neighbors with a nuclear weapon."
An amendment passed on Friday tempered the language by
saying nothing in the act should be construed as authorizing a
use of force against Iran.
"On North Korea, the confrontational language went so far as
to include a study that suggests deploying tactical nuclear
weapons to the region," Smith said. "This would be dangerous and
reckless and could destabilize the entire region."
ADDS TO DEFENSE SPENDING
The House measure would add some $4 billion to the
Democratic president's defense spending plan and delay or
reverse many of the cuts in ships, aircraft and troop levels
proposed as part of the Pentagon's new military strategy.
The authorization bill lets Congress set defense policy and
authorize spending limits but it does not actually appropriate
funds. The panel that controls the purse strings - the House
Appropriations Committee - this week approved slightly lower
spending levels for defense.
The Pentagon is under orders to cut projected spending by
$487 billion over the next decade as the government's tries to
bring its trillion-dollar deficit under control.
It could face an additional $500 billion in automatic
spending cuts over 10 years beginning in January. The cuts were
set in motion as part of last year's debt limit deal, after a
congressional panel failed to specify further deficit-reduction
In debate on amendments to the bill, lawmakers clashed over
efforts to revoke powers granted in the wake of the September
2001 attacks that let the president order the indefinite
detention of suspected terrorists detained in the United States.
The issue split the conservative Tea Party movement, with
some joining an attempt to revoke the presidential powers and
others seeking to retain but clarify them.
Smith said the president should not have the power to
indefinitely detain someone without being required to charge
them and bring them to trial. He noted that the criminal justice
system had effectively dealt with more than 400 terrorists.
"This is an extraordinary amount of power to give to the
president," he said. "One power that he does not need is the
power to indefinitely detain or place in military custody people
here in the United States."
But most lawmakers warned that Smith's proposal would force
the president to treat terrorist suspects as criminals rather
than enemy combatants.
"We are at a war, we are not in a police action," said
Representative Allen West, a member of the Tea Party caucus. "We
cannot look to guarantee to those who would seek to harm us the
constitutional rights that are granted to Americans."
But Representative Justin Amash, another Tea Party favorite,
said constitutional guarantees of due process were reserved for
all people, not just U.S. citizens.
"The frightening thing here is that the government is
claiming the power under the Afghanistan authorization for use
of military force as a justification for entering American homes
to grab people indefinitely detain them and not give them a
charge and a trial," he said.