WASHINGTON — In an election-year challenge to President Barack Obama, the Republican-led House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a $570 billion defense bill that halts any Guantanamo transfers for a year amid the furor over the American-for-Taliban swap and pulls back on government spying.
The vote was 340-73 for the measure that provides money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, personnel, ships and aircraft. An unusual coalition of libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats pushed through new limits on National Security Agency surveillance as the year-old revelations of bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records still roil the debate of security versus privacy.
Weeks after the prisoner exchange, Republicans railed against Obama’s decision to trade five Taliban leaders who had been held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than a decade for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a captive for five years in Afghanistan. The Taliban were transferred to Qatar, where they must remain for a year.
Republicans said Obama broke the law by failing to notify Congress at least 30 days before the swap and increased the terrorism risk to the United States with the exchange.
Obama has defended the deal to spare Bergdahl, with officials saying the government needed to move expeditiously due to his failing health. The administration has tried to reduce the population at Guantanamo, where 149 are being held.
The House added a provision to the bill that would bar funds for transfers, imposing a one-year moratorium on moving Guantanamo detainees to a foreign country. It also voted to bar funds for transferring Guantanamo detainees to Yemen.
“President Obama’s recent exchange of five high-level terrorists without notifying Congress illustrates his blatant disregard for its role as a co-equal branch of government,” Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who called the five “cold-blooded terrorists,” said in a statement.
Cotton, an Army veteran who did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, sponsored the amendment.
The bill already bars 85 percent of the funds in the account for overseas conflicts until Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reassures lawmakers that congressional notification on Guantanamo transfers will be respected.
Earlier this year, the House overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act that would codify a proposal made in January by Obama, who said he wanted to end the National Security Agency’s practice of collecting and storing the “to and from” records of nearly every American land line telephone call.
Several Republicans and Democrats said the legislation fell short in curbing NSA surveillance. They joined forces and scored a decisive victory late Thursday in their effort to impose new limits on the agency.