House lawmakers on Friday passed a roughly $612 billion annual military spending bill.
WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Friday passed a roughly $612 billion annual military spending bill, concluding a week of fighting on issues ranging from congressionally mandated spending caps to immigration.
The National Defense Authorization Act passed 269-151 in a largely party line vote.
“Whatever our troops need to get the job done, they should get it, and the House has acted to provide just that,” said the House speaker, John Boehner of Ohio. “With all the threats our troops face and the sacrifices they make, Democrats’ opposition to this defense bill is in fact indefensible.”
Democrats were particularly upset over Republican attempts to circumvent the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration that began in 2013, saying they could not accept any increases in military spending without equivalent increases for other programs.
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But in a maneuver intended to skirt the military spending caps, the legislation includes roughly $39 billion in an Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which is reserved for emergency military operations and exempt from sequestration.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said that he did not mind the increases in military spending but that Congress needs “to be taking care of domestic things, too.”
“There’s too many things we need to deal with — the things that help people who aspire to get into the middle class and stay in the middle class,” Cummings said. “My concerns are more those kinds of issues, you know, some kind of balance here. I believe in a strong military, but I also believe that we need to have a strong country.”
In a letter to her colleagues Thursday evening, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, urged her party’s lawmakers to vote against the military spending bill.
“The Republican defense authorization bill before the House is both bad budgeting and harmful to military planning — perpetuating uncertainty and instability in the defense budget, and damaging the military’s ability to plan and prepare for the future,” Pelosi wrote. “Republicans should come together with Democrats in a fiscally responsible way to protect our national security and grow our economy.”
President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation, which Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week described as “clearly a road to nowhere.”
Boehner urged Democrats to support the bill, saying it should not be “a tough vote.”
“This vote is about whether you support our men and women in uniform,” Boehner told reporters Thursday.
Republicans, however, also faced one major obstacle, in the form of pro-immigration language that Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., attached to the legislation in a bipartisan committee vote. Gallego, a Marine Corps veteran, offered an amendment that would have allowed Congress to encourage the Pentagon to consider allowing young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, to serve in the military.
Despite the provision having, in the words of Gallego himself, “no teeth,” roughly two dozen Republicans, led by Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, warned that the amendment could sink the entire bill, and Brooks offered an amendment of his own to strip out Gallego’s language. On Thursday evening, Brooks’ amendment passed, 221-202, helping pave the way for the military spending bill’s final passage. Twenty Republicans voted against the Brooks amendment.