Ignoring a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House voted 315-108 for a sweeping, $638 billion defense bill on Friday, which would block President Barack Obama from closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and limit his efforts to reduce nuclear weapons.
The legislation also imposes new punishments on members of the armed services found guilty of rape or sexual assault as outrage over the crisis in the military has galvanized Congress.
The House bill containing the provisions on sex-related crimes that the Obama administration supports as well as the detention policies that it vigorously opposes must be reconciled with a Senate version before heading to the president’s desk. The Senate measure, expected to be considered this fall, costs $13 billion less than the House bill – a budgetary difference that also will have to be resolved.
The defense policy bill authorizes money for aircraft, weapons, ships, personnel and the war in Afghanistan in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 while blocking the Pentagon from closing domestic bases.
Shocking statistics that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year and high-profile incidences at the service academies and in the ranks pushed lawmakers to tackle the growing problem of sexual assault. A single case of a commander overturning a conviction – a decision that even Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel couldn’t change – drove Congress to act swiftly.
Both the House and Senate were determined to shake up the military’s culture in ways that would ensure victims that if they reported crimes, their allegations wouldn’t be discounted or their careers jeopardized.
“This is a self-inflicted wound that has no place in the military,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who lost both legs and partial use of an arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq, told her colleagues in the final moments of debate on Friday.
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