Guantanamo, rights issues in defense bill divide Congress

WASHINGTON The top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee announced his opposition on Wednesday to the 2017 defense authorization bill, underscoring the partisan divide over the $602 billion defense policy measure.

Representative Adam Smith said changes in the bill this week by Republicans, who control the House, on issues including women’s registration for the draft, transfers from the Guantanamo detention center and protection for gay and transgender employees of military contractors, had led him to oppose it.

“These have tipped the balance of the bill considerably,” Smith said in a statement.

President Barack Obama had already threatened to veto the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, over a long list of issues, starting with its use of $18 billion of special war funds for day-to-day military programs to avoid automatic budget cuts.

This week, the powerful House Rules Committee used a procedural move to remove, without a House vote, an amendment approved by the armed services committee that would have required women to register for the military draft.

The Rules panel also decided not to allow debate on an amendment that would have stripped a “religious protection” measure from the bill that rights advocates fear would undo the president’s 2014 executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Smith said he also objected to Republicans’ adding further restrictions on transfers from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and reduction in funds for nuclear nonproliferation and other provisions.

Republicans control 246 seats in the 435-member House, which passed the bill by a vote of 277-147 late on Wednesday, largely along party lines, with most Republicans backing the bill and most Democrats opposed.

However, the Senate will pass its own version of the bill later this year, which will be reconciled with the House bill to create a final version of the legislation.

Once passed by the Senate and House, that NDAA would be sent to the White House for Obama to sign into law, or veto.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Tom Brown and Paul Tait)

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