This was a vote on sustaining the president's veto of legislation to keep the Defense Department running in the event that the annual Defense spending bill is not enacted. Procedurally, the vote was technically on whether to pass the legislation in spite of the president's objections. Therefore, a "nay" vote was a vote in favor of sustaining the veto.
On December 16, Congress passed a Defense spending bill that provided for Iraq and Afghanistan war funding. However, Congress also passed a short-term spending bill to keep the Defense Department running for one more week, and give the president more time to read the long-term war funding legislation. President Obama, however, immediately signed that long-term bill, rendering the short-term measure unnecessary.
The president sent the short-term spending measure back to Congress, with a memorandum explaining that it had become "unnecessary." In that memorandum, Obama cited his "pocket veto" authority -- in which a president simply withholds his signature from a bill while Congress is out of session.
Many members of Congress view ”the pocket veto” as an affront to the institution's constitutional prerogatives. To show their displeasure with Obama's action (but not their disagreement with the legislation), House Democrats decided to schedule a vote on sustaining the president's veto, and thus publicly disagree with the pocket veto.
Rep. David Obey (D-WI) argued that members of Congress "do not consider it a pocket veto. Therefore, we feel that the appropriate action to be taken is to sustain the veto and take this action to demonstrate that, in our judgment, a pocket veto is not appropriate, that the President exercised a regular veto and it should be treated as such."
Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee joined Obey in criticizing the White House. "I wanted to rise in support of the position taken by my friend, Mr. Obey…. I find it a bit ironic that here we are having to defend the constitutional prerogatives of the Congress on a joint resolution that was originally sent to the President to respect his constitutional prerogatives," said Rep. Bill Young (R-FL).
No members spoke in opposition to sustaining the president's veto, according to the Congressional Record -- although a majority of GOP members did ultimately vote against doing so.
The vote on the bill was 143-245. 140 Republicans and 3 Democrats voted "aye" -- which was essentially a vote to overturn the president's veto. 223 Democrats and 22 Republicans vote "nay" -- which was a vote to sustain the veto. As a result, the House voted to sustain the president's veto of a short-term spending bill that had become redundant, rejecting his authority to use a pocket veto in this particular instance.