U.S. Senate passes $602 billion defense authorization bill

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 14, 2016 12:29 PM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to pass a $602 billion defense authorization bill, despite President Barack Obama's threat to veto the annual policy measure over issues including a ban on closing the Guantanamo military prison.

The vote was 85-13, far more than the majority needed to pass the 100-member Senate. The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, now must be reconciled with one the House of Representatives passed last month before it can be sent to Obama.

The House bill also faces a veto threat.

Obama gave a long list of objections to the current versions of the bill, including provisions making it more difficult to close the detention center at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba and the use of funds specially designated for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to allow the military to avoid mandatory spending limits.

After the vote, Republican Senator John McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said he was disappointed it did not include a program that would have helped Afghans who worked for American troops to move to the United States.

"They are the number one target for the Taliban and for ISIS (Islamic State)," McCain said in the Senate after the bill passed without an amendment extending the program to provide Special Immigrant Visas for interpreters and others who worked for U.S. forces.

The bill would also require young women to register for the military draft, as the Department of Defense is opening all of the military, including combat roles, to females.

A few socially conservative senators voted against the measure because of that provision.

The bill passed after lawmakers reached a compromise on the use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines. Lawmakers eased a ban on their use late last year, worried that it could drive United Launch alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, out of business and leave only privately held SpaceX to lift satellites into space.

An amendment from Republican Senator Cory Gardner and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson gives the Pentagon time to develop and test a replacement for the Russian-made engines and limits their use for launches.

McCain, a harsh critic of Russia's government, had tried to stop the use of the RD-180 in order to send a message to President Vladimir Putin.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)