U.S. Senate unanimously passes defense spending bill

WASHINGTON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday

voted 98-0 to approve a wide-ranging defense bill that

authorizes $631.4 billion in funding for the U.S. military, the

war in Afghanistan and nuclear weapons.

The bill, passed after five days of debate and consideration

of hundreds of amendments, must be reconciled with the version

passed by the House of Representatives before it can go to

President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

There are several key differences between the House and

Senate bills, including whether to back continued work by the

military on developing biofuels for jets and warships.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the

key challenge facing the bill's enactment was the short amount

of time available for House and Senate negotiators to come up

with a compromise version. He said staff discussions had already

begun.

The top Republican on the committee, Senator John McCain,

said he was confident that the House and Senate would be able to

resolve the differences between the two bills.

Both senators said they were pleased that they had been able

to shepherd the bill to Senate passage under an open process

that allowed debate on amendments without having to deal with

any threatened procedural roadblocks known as filibusters.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has promised

to try to change Senate rules when the new congress convenes

next month to curb filibusters, which have become commonplace.

The Senate bill includes a new round of Iran sanctions, a

permanent ban on transferring detainees from Guantanamo to the

United States, and prohibitions on the military detention of

U.S. citizens.

A measure included in the bill would require U.S. defense

contractors that work on classified programs to notify the

government if their computer networks are breached.

The bill also bans funding for a missile defense project

funded jointly by the United States, Germany and Italy - the

Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) that is built by

Lockheed Martin Corp and its partners in Italy and

Germany.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had urged lawmakers to

include $400.9 million as final funding for the program, which

is being discontinued after this year.

The White House threatened to veto the bill over the changes

to the Pentagon's proposed budget and the restrictions on

transfers of Guantanamo detainees.

The bill includes a provision that would lift the ban on

women in the military using their health insurance for abortion

care in cases of rape or incest, and another that would require

creation of a comprehensive suicide prevention program.

It also includes an overhaul of wartime contracting rules

after the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and

Afghanistan found the United States had squandered up to $60

billion through waste and fraud on contracts in those countries.

(Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by

Mohammad Zargham)

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