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House passes sweeping $638 billion defense bill with new punishments for sexual assault

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The restrictions in the House bill put it at odds with the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s bill gives the Defense Department additional flexibility to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. and other countries, with the objective of closing the detention facility there.

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But, in a move that reflects deep divisions on Capitol Hill over Guantanamo’s future, the committee did not hold votes on the provision in the bill, opting instead to have that debate when the legislation moves to the Senate floor.

In its current form, the Senate committee’s legislation would permit transfer of terror suspects to the U.S. if the Pentagon determines that doing so is in the interests of national security and that any public safety issues have been addressed, the committee said Friday in a statement detailing the bill’s major provisions.

Detainees could be moved to foreign countries if they are determined to no longer be a threat to U.S. security, the transfers are pursuant to court orders, or the individuals have been tried and acquitted, or have been convicted and completed their sentences.

Transfers to third countries also could occur if the Pentagon determines the move supports U.S. national security interests and steps have been taken "to substantially mitigate the risk of the detainee re-engaging in terrorist activities," the committee said.

There are still restrictions, "but there is greater flexibility provided," Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Thursday night. But the committee’s senior Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said he would fight to have the transfer authority stripped out of the committee’s bill when it comes to the Senate floor this fall.

Inhofe called Guantanamo "a great asset, a great resource" that needs to stay open.

During two-plus days of House debate, defense hawks prevailed over fiscal hawks as the House rejected two attempts to cut the overall amount of spending authorized in the bill. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland joined forces with Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to trim $5 billion that the Armed Services Committee had added to the bill for war costs.

Mulvaney argued that "simply spending more money than the Defense Department asks for doesn’t mean we’re stronger on defense." Van Hollen called the money a "slush fund."

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The House also rejected a measure by Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., to cut $53 million that the Army National Guard spends for World Wrestling Federation and NASCAR sponsorships. McCollum had argued that as the military bemoans the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts, the money could be better spent elsewhere.


Follow Donna Cassata on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DonnaCassataAP.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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