New Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as he arrived at the Pentagon on Friday. (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
Reporting from Washington — The House began debate Wednesday on a $650-billion spending bill to fund the Pentagon and continue paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The measure would boost the Pentagon's budget by $17 billion for fiscal year 2012 at a time when Congress and the White House are in heated negotiations over the deficit and reining in federal spending. It is the only spending bill to move through the Republican-controlled House that would increase funding over 2011 levels.
Any House-passed bill is unlikely to become law: The Democratic-controlled Senate still must pass its version, then negotiate with House leaders on a bill they can send to the White House.
But the measure presents an opportunity for lawmakers who are angry over President Obama's use of military force in Libya, as well as those who are dissatisfied with his plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, to try to cut off funding.
The last time the House debated defense spending legislation was in May, when it passed an authorization bill that served as the chamber's policy blueprint for handing out funds to the many divisions and programs within the Pentagon.
The spending bill would provide $530 billion for the Pentagon — about $9 billion less than Obama had requested — and $119 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It includes a 1.6% military pay raise, $15 billion to construct 10 new Navy ships and $6 billion for 32 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
The White House in May threatened to veto the bill, citing cuts in a number of Defense Department programs. The administration also objects to limits on the use of funds to transfer detainees from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States.
"The administration strongly opposes a number of provisions in this bill," the White House said in a statement. "If a bill is presented to the president that undermines his ability as commander in chief or includes ideological or political policy riders, the president's senior advisors would recommend a veto."
Among its objections, the White House cited "unnecessary" funds set aside to buy a C-17 cargo jet that the Air Force did not request.
The Long Beach assembly line where Boeing builds the C-17 had been expected to shut down at the end of next year, until India ordered 10 planes last month.