House passes sweeping defense policy bill; measure's future is cloudy

A view shows the U.S. Capitol in Washington April 23, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives passed the $612 billion annual defense authorization bill on Thursday, but the measure's future was clouded by a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over government spending policy.

The House voted 270-156 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets spending policy for the Department of Defense but does not appropriate the funds. The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans favoring the bill and most Democrats opposing it.

The Senate is due to vote on the measure next week.

The White House said on Wednesday that President Barack Obama would veto the bill if it is passed in Congress because of the "irresponsible" way it boosts military spending.

The NDAA uses some $90 billion in discretionary funds meant for war spending, to allow the Pentagon to sidestep mandatory "sequestration" budget cuts.

Obama and his fellow Democrats want Republicans to work out a longer-term budget deal to ease the automatic spending constraints not just on military spending but also on many domestic programs.

Republicans say Democrats want to preserve irresponsible spending on pet programs and are holding national security hostage by resisting the use of the discretionary funds.

Many Democrats also object to measures included in the NDAA that make it more difficult to close the military prison for foreign terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Senate Democrats have said they will block appropriations bills until Republicans agree to work out a compromise funding plan.

Separately on Thursday, Democrats blocked a military construction and veterans administration appropriations bill. The 50-44 vote for the bill meant it failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Frances Kerry)