Senate Sends President Defense Bill He Opposes

WASHINGTON -- Time to bring out the veto pen, Mr. President.

The Senate on Wednesday passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, sending it on to President Barack Obama in spite of the White House's repeated threats to veto the measure.

The administration and top Democrats in the Senate oppose the authorization because it mandates the Department of Defense spend nearly $90 billion through an off-the-books war spending account that adds to the deficit. That's $38 billion more than Obama wanted.

The White House has declared such a move unacceptable because although Obama would like to raise defense spending, he also wants to increase domestic spending by an equal amount -- which is not addressed in a defense bill.

But many members of Obama's own party sided with the GOP to pass the legislation, as well as to waive the budget law that would prevent such a move. The waiver passed 71 to 26. The bill passed 70 to 27, with 20 Democrats and one independent voting in favor.

Republicans implored the president not to veto the measure, and said he would be playing politics with national security if he does.

"The president is threatening to veto this bill to defend the nation in order to prove a political point," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McCain argued that although he didn't like the process, it was still vital to get the cash to the Defense Department. Like all other discretionary spending programs, the department was hit by sequestration in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

"We as a nation are on a course to cut nearly $1 trillion of defense spending over 10 years with no strategic or military rationale whatsoever," McCain said.

McCain argued that it made no sense for Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to make a stand over the NDAA when the spending questions can still be negotiated in ongoing budget talks. Those talks, McCain said, are the appropriate time to debate the spending.

“The only legislation that can stop sequestration, whether for defense or non-defense, is an appropriations bill," McCain said. "In fact, Republicans and Democrats are engaged right now in negotiations to find a bipartisan budget deal that would provide sequestration relief. I hope they succeed. But the idea that the precise location in the NDAA of certain funds for our troops will have any impact on the substance or outcome of those negotiations is ludicrous."

Nevertheless, Democrats who backed the White House said it was a misuse of the war account, known as Overseas Contingency Operations.

"The bill before us is not fiscally responsible. Our troops deserve real funding, not budget gimmickry," Reid said in debate before the votes. "The bill does not do the job. My Republican friends like to talk about the deficit and the debt and the need to get our fiscal house in order, but their actions speak louder than words."

Although Obama has threatened to veto the measure, it remains to be seen if he will. He has not carried through on past threats to overturn the NDAA over detention provisions, restrictions on the Guantanamo Bay terrorist facility, and other objectionable items regularly included in the defense authorization.

If he does nix the bill, he may have to depend on the House to uphold him. The 70 votes in the Senate are more than the two-thirds needed for an override. The House passed the bill last week with a smaller majority.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.