WASHINGTON (AP) - The House passed a $607 billion defense spending bill for next year that adds billions to President Barack Obama's request and breaks a budget deal that Congress backed last year.
However, in a surprise vote, the House agreed to freeze defense spending at the current levels, cutting $1.1 billion from the $608 billion bill. An unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and tea party Republicans pleaded for some fiscal discipline from their colleagues.
"Austerity to me means spending less," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C. "Total government spending will be up this year. We're still facing a $1 trillion deficit. We need to do better to get our spending under control."
Defense Department base budgets have nearly doubled in the last decade, and that doesn't include the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mulvaney was joined by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who questioned the need for half a trillion on defense.
The military "has three ways to destroy a Soviet Union that doesn't exist anymore," Frank said.
Still, Oregon Democrat Rep. Kurt Schrader criticized the bill in an interview with KATU News on Thursday.
“I don’t understand why we are doing this,” he said. “Everyone is working about debt, deficit and getting our economy going and we are spending money that the Pentagon is not even asking us for.”
He reiterated his criticism in a statement issued after the vote.
Schrader voted against the bill, as did the other three Democratic members of Oregon's delegation. Oregon's lone Republican congressman, Rep. Greg Walden, voted in favor.
The administration has complained that the increase in defense spending would come at the expense of job training, health care, research and education.
"The bill undermines key investments in high-priority programs, impeding the ability of the secretary of defense to carry out the defense strategic guidance issues earlier this year, and hindering the ability of the armed forces to carry out their mission consistent with the new strategy," the administration said in a statement last month.
The House bill blocks the Air Force from retiring or transferring aircraft, including C-27Js, C-23s and a version of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle. It cuts $70 million from the Pentagon's effort to develop biofuels as an alternative to traditional fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil while adding millions for submarines and Navy destroyers that the Pentagon didn't request.
The bill would provide a 1.7 percent pay increase for military personnel, but lawmakers rejected a .5 percent civilian pay raise.
House action on the bill came against the backdrop of a fierce political fight over automatic spending cuts that will kick in Jan. 2 unless Congress comes up with a plan for $1.2 trillion in savings.
Republicans and Democrats are at an impasse over how to avert the across-the-board cuts in domestic and defense programs that they voted for last year. The cuts were the unpalatable last resort if a congressional supercommittee failed to produce a proposal, a possibility that became a reality last November.
Republicans blamed Obama for the automatic culls and the stalemate.
"The sequester is happening because the president didn't lead," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday. Stepping up the pressure on Obama, Boehner said the president "hasn't lifted a finger to work with the Congress on jobs or to resolve these issues ... He's just out there campaigning every day and looking for somebody else to blame."
Democrats argue that Republican resistance to raising taxes on high wage earners is blocking any effort to come up with an alternative to the automatic cuts.
In other votes, the House approved an amendment that would bar the Pentagon from using any money in the bill in violation of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and affirms the right of states to refuse to recognize such marriages
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the bill's sponsor, said that same-sex marriages that might take place on military bases would violate the law. The vote was 247-166.
The House also backed amendments that would block any Obama administration attempt to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, denying funds to cut the stockpile.
This drew ridicule from Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who said it was hard for some Republicans to "let go of the Cold War."
"The reality is we won. It's over," Markey said.