Congress passes defence spending bill

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A sweeping defence bill that authorises Pentagon spending passed Congress late on Thursday, assuring funding through 2014 while easing detainee transfers from Guantanamo and cracking down on sexual assault in the military.

The compromise legislation, which passed 84-15 with broad bipartisan support, allocates some US$552.1 billion for military spending on bases and equipment as well as troop training and resources, and allows for a one per cent raise in military salaries.

The National Defense Authorization Act also provides $80.7 billion for overseas contingency operations, namely the 12-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Passage ensures an NDAA will be signed into law on time for the 53rd consecutive year, something that appeared to be in doubt earlier this month when tussles over other legislation like the recently-passed budget agreement and executive nominations stalled the defence bill.

The process angered several Republican lawmakers because in the rush to pass the measure, they were not allowed to introduce or debate key amendments.

In the aftermath, bipartisan negotiators from both the Senate and House of Representatives hashed out a compromise bill.

Last week, the House overwhelmingly approved the measure 350-69.

Obama has expressed support for the bill, and the White House reiterated its backing on Thursday.

"Overall, the administration is pleased with the modifications and improvements contained in the bill that address most of the administration's significant objections with earlier versions regarding these issues," it said.

The bill includes language that eases restrictions on the president's ability for transferring Guantanamo detainees overseas, a potential first step toward meeting his 2008 campaign pledge to close the controversial prison for terror suspects in Cuba.

But it retains prohibitions on transferring detainees to the United States, a provision sought by Republicans.

The bill includes some 30 measures addressing the problem of sexual assault in the military, but it notably left out an amendment seeking to remove sex crime prosecutions from the military chain of command.