Senate to Vote on Defense Policy Bill

Senate to Vote on Defense Policy Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Over White House objections, the Senate is poised to pass a $612 billion defense policy bill that calls for arming Ukraine forces, prevents another round of base closures and makes it harder for President Barack Obama to close the prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

The Senate was scheduled to vote Thursday on the bill, which the president has threatened to veto.

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged Democrats to pass the measure, which authorizes money Obama requested for the Pentagon and other national security programs.

Democrats oppose the way the bill skirts congressional spending caps and increases money for defense by padding an emergency war-fighting account that is exempt from the caps. They argue that if Republicans want to break through spending caps on defense, they should do so for non-defense spending too.

Democrats, however, are expected to vote for the bill and save their budget fight over the use of the Overseas Contingency Operations account for appropriations bills. That's what McCain is hoping.

"If they choose to vote against this legislation on the grounds that they are opposed to the funding mechanism used to do so, then they have their priorities upside-down," said McCain, R-Arizona. "And I intend to tell the American people about it because I believe that we're not serving the men and women who are serving this country."

In a speech on the Senate floor, McCain rattled off what he said were highlights of the legislation: a system so service men and women would not have to serve for 20 years before getting some retirement money; measures to ensure better accountability and curb cost overruns; $3.8 billion for Afghan security forces; accelerated shipbuilding; and upgraded fighter aircraft.

The White House, however, objects to padding the yearly war-fighting fund, which is not subject to spending caps.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday called it a "herky jerky" approach that ignores a need to budget money for multi-year weapons development programs, for instance.

"I travel around the world and this ... looks terrible," Carter told the House Armed Services Committee. "It gives the appearance that we are diminishing ourselves because we can't come together behind a budget, year in and year out."

The White House is opposed to provisions that would make it harder for Obama to transfer the remaining 116 detainees out of Guantanamo Bay so he can make good on his pledge to close the military prison.

The administration also objects to the bill because it does not authorize the closing of unneeded U.S. military facilities, prohibits the retirement of the A-10 aircraft that provides close air support for ground troops and forces the hand of the administration to provide lethal assistance to Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed separatists — something the White House has so far refrained from doing.