WASHINGTON – The Senate overwhelmingly approved a sweeping, $631 billion defense bill Tuesday that sends a clear signal to President Barack Obama to move quickly to get U.S. combat troops out of Afghanistan, tightens sanctions on Iran and limits the president’s authority in handling terror suspects.
Ignoring a veto threat, the Senate voted 98-0 for the legislation that authorizes money for weapons, aircraft and ships and provides a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel. After a decade of increasing Pentagon budgets, the vote came against the backdrop of significant reductions in projected military spending and the threat of deeper cuts from the looming “fiscal cliff” of automatic spending cuts and tax increases.
The bill would provide some $526 billion for the base defense budget, $17 billion for defense programs in the Energy Department and about $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan. House and Senate negotiators must reconcile their competing versions of the bill in the next few weeks.
Reacting to the relentless violence in Syria, the Senate voted 92-6 to require the Pentagon to report to Congress on the ability of the U.S. military to impose a no-fly zone over Syria. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has pushed for greater U.S. involvement to end the Syrian civil war, sponsored the amendment.
The administration has threatened to veto the Senate bill, strongly objecting to a provision restricting the president’s authority to transfer terror suspects from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign countries.