Bush threatens defense bill veto, warning on prisoners

Friday, September 30, 2005; 3:57 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday threatened to veto a $440.2 billion defense spending bill in the Senate because it wasn't enough money for the Pentagon and also warned lawmakers not to add any amendments to regulate the treatment of detainees or set up a commission to probe abuse.

Last summer, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John Warner of Virginia and others sought legislation banning cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners.

The administration has been criticized for holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely. Critics have also questioned whether administration policies led to abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The Senate legislation, which includes a $50 billion emergency fund to keep combat operations running in Iraq into next year, could be voted on next month.

The measure provides $7 billion less than President George W. Bush requested early this year and is nearly $1 billion below current levels.

"These cuts will either result in deterioration of our force readiness" or will require additional spending requests from the administration later in the fiscal year, the White House budget office warned senators.

The House of Representatives last summer passed a fiscal 2006 defense spending bill supported by the Bush administration, although the White House complained about $3 billion in cuts that it said would hamper regular military operations.

Referring to the Senate bill, the White House statement on Friday noted that Bush's senior advisers would recommend vetoing a bill "that significantly underfunds the department (of defense)" and shifts the money to domestic programs not related to security.

In addition, the White House threatened to veto the defense spending bill if it changes the process for considering military base closures within the United States.

Besides cutting some operation and maintenance accounts at the Pentagon, the Senate bill would cut the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft by $270 million and would reduce the Transformational Satellite Communications program by $250 million. Spending on a missile defense program would be about $800 million below Bush's request.