October 20, 2015 / 8:20 PM / 4 years ago

Congressional fight over defense bill intensifies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday he believes there are enough votes in the U.S. Senate to override a veto of a $612 billion defense bill, as the two U.S. political parties intensified their war of words over the legislation.

U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C) participate in a formal signing event for H.R. 1735, "The National Defense Authorization Act," on Capitol Hill in Washington October 20, 2015. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (L) looks on. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

The White House has said President Barack Obama plans to veto the sweeping National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes spending for the Pentagon. Obama and his fellow Democrats object to the measure because it uses some $90 billion meant for war spending to avoid automatic budget cuts to military programs.

Obama and many other Democrats are pushing for a budget deal that would also address domestic spending cuts.

Republicans bashed Obama for his promised veto, saying it foolishly risked national security as the country balanced rising threats from Islamic State militants and others.

“The president wants to take a stand for greater domestic spending by playing politics with our national security,” Republican Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at the ceremony where congressional leaders signed the bill to send it to Obama.

“Vetoing this bill will not end the spending debate,” McCain said.

The NDAA was passed by the Senate on Oct. 7 and the House on Oct. 1. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

If Obama vetoes the measure, Republicans will have scramble to muster the two-thirds majority needed in both the Senate and House of Representatives for an override.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said the veto would be sustained in the House, which will vote before the Senate. However, Republicans insisted they were doing all they could to win more votes.

In a meeting with reporters, McConnell declined to discuss areas for potential compromise after a veto, instead stressing Republican efforts to muster enough votes to override.

The NDAA passed the House by 270-156, short of a two-thirds majority.

Senator Richard Durbin, who as minority whip is the Democrats’ chief vote counter in the Senate, declined to say whether the Senate would sustain an Obama NDAA veto. Seventy-three senators, enough to override a veto, backed it on Oct. 7.

“It goes to the House first, and we think that they’ll sustain the president’s veto when that arrives. It wouldn’t come here,” he said.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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