US Senate passes $612b defence policy bill


Over White House objections, the Senate passed a $612 billion defence 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, Cuba.

The Senate voted 71 to 25 to approve the bill, which President Barack Obama has threatened to veto.

Sen. John McCain, Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged his colleagues early on Thursday to set aside differences about government spending and pass the measure, which authorises money Obama requested for the Pentagon and other national security programmes.

He said that the world is more dangerous than it was in 2011, when the automatic spending cuts kicked in.

“The Middle East is literally on fire,” he said, adding that any senator who refuses to back the bill because of a heated budgeting dispute on Capitol Hill has his or her priorities upside-down.

The bill, which now must be reconciled with the version passed by the House, provides a 2.3 per cent pay increase for US servicemen and -women. It includes measures to ensure better accountability and curb cost overruns and also reaffirms a ban against torturing detainees.

Democrats oppose the way the bill skirts congressional spending caps 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-defence spending, too. “There are some who say this is a one-year fix,” said Sen. Jack Reed, the committee’s top Democrat, who voted against the massive bill.

“I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think if we use these types of, as some call, gimmicks, accounting tricks once, our tendency to use them again will be there. Once we’ve used it once, it is easy to use it two, three, four, five times.