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Democratic opposition rising against defense spending bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Growing Democratic opposition to the nearly $612 billion defense policy bill is casting doubt on its outcome in the House this week.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which historically has garnered overwhelming bipartisan support.

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee says he’ll vote against the measure when the full House takes it up. General debate begins on Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also has said she will vote against it, and a legislative aide said Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the No. 2 House Democrat, have started lobbying their colleagues to vote against it.

On the other side of the aisle, some two dozen conservative Republicans are challenging a provision in the legislation that would urge the Pentagon to consider letting young immigrants serve in the U.S. armed forces. The immigration measure, sponsored by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., was included when the bill passed out of committee last week.

Democratic opposition to the bill is embroiled in a debate over automatic spending caps Congress imposed in 2011 as a way to reduce federal deficits.

Democrats argue that the GOP wants to ignore those spending caps when it comes to funding the military, but wants to adhere to them when it comes to other domestic spending.

“I understand that finding a compromise to remove the caps has been elusive, but that does not justify the use of gimmicks to protect one part of the budget and shortchange other portions that are vitally important to the future of our country,” said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

“Congress is wasting time with this dead-end approach.”

Overall, the bill authorizes $515 billion in spending for national defense and another $89.2 billion for the emergency war-fighting fund for a total of $604.2 billion. Another $7.7 billion is mandatory defense spending that doesn’t get authorized by Congress. That means the bill would provide the entire $611.9 billion desired by the president.

Obama says the committee is using a budget “gimmick” to increase defense spending while failing to reverse the spending caps.

The Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, which approved the National Defense Authorization Act 60-2, downplayed the opposition.

“Some in Congress may try to oppose the NDAA to try to put pressure on us to increase spending on domestic agencies,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. “I hope that’s not true, because it is absolutely wrong to use the men and women who serve our country in the military as pawns in some sort of political game in Washington. This bill deserves the support of the full House, like it had of the Armed Services Committee.”

The White House has said the president will not back a budget that locks in spending caps and he will not “fix defense without fixing nondefense spending.”

Thornberry said that padding the war-fighting account, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund is “not a good way to run a railroad.” But he said that until the spending caps are removed or replaced with something else, he has to focus on what the military needs right now to defend the nation.

The White House also is pushing back against a host of other provisions of the bill, including one that would make it harder for Obama to close the military prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On Ukraine, it calls for arming Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed separatists — something the Obama administration has so far resisted.

The administration also opposes measures that aim to bypass the Iraqi government in Baghdad and give money directly to Iraqi Kurdish fighters.

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