WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration sharply criticized a $649 billion defense spending bill in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday as lawmakers began debating next year’s Pentagon funding, including the war in Afghanistan.
The White House said in a policy statement it strongly opposed elements of the defense appropriations bill in the House because of proposed spending cuts and restrictions on the handling of Guantanamo detainees.
“If a bill is presented to the president that undermines his ability as commander-in-chief or includes ideological or political policy riders, the president’s senior advisers would recommend a veto,” the statement said.
The White House raised its concerns as the House began debating the bill to set levels for most military spending for the 2012 fiscal year beginning in October.
The measure was expected to face a large number of amendments, including a move to halt U.S. participation in the NATO-led campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi by barring any spending on the effort.
With President Barack Obama struggling to reduce the nation’s $1.4 trillion deficit, war-weary lawmakers facing cuts to social programs used the debate to press the administration to end the war more quickly and cut defense spending more deeply. The current House measure cuts Obama’s spending request by $8.9 billion.
“As we spend over $2 billion a week on this decade-long war, critical programs, like programs for women and children, nutrition programs, food stamps and Medicare are on the chopping block. Enough is enough. There is no military solution in Afghanistan,” said Representative Barbara Lee, who pledged to seek an amendment to end funding for the Afghan war.
Representative Alcee Hastings said the United States needed a “lean and powerful” military but “we also have great needs in this country and we cannot continue to slash funding for essential programs here at home in favor of ever-increasing funding for wars abroad.”
The appropriations bill is a long way from final passage. The Senate’s version of the bill is still in committee. Whatever version is ultimately passed by the House would have to be reconciled with a bill adopted by the Democratic-led Senate before it would go to Obama for his signature.
The White House expressed particular concern with House efforts to place restrictions on how it handles terrorism terrorists held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The House bill would prevent the transfer of self-proclaimed September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and any other foreign terrorism suspect to the United States, effectively preventing them from facing U.S. trial or imprisonment.
That language “is a dangerous and extraordinary challenge to the critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and national security interests,” the White House statement said.
“It unnecessarily constrains the nation’s counterterrorism efforts and would undermine national security, particularly where federal courts are the best -- or even the only -- option for incapacitating dangerous terrorists,” it said.
The measure is part of a long-running struggle between Obama and some lawmakers over whether terrorism suspects should be prosecuted as enemy combatants before military commissions or as criminal suspects in federal courts.
In April, the administration abandoned a two-year effort to prosecute Mohammed and four suspected September 11 co-conspirators in a federal court. Attorney General Eric Holder said lawmakers had “tied our hands” by blocking funding for the move in 2011.
The White House also objected to a series of cuts the House made in its spending request, including a reduction in funding for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that it said would “undermine the nation’s ability to invest in innovation and ideas” important for national security.
Editing by Peter Cooney