A senior White House official is telling House Democrats that the defense bill that bucks the Pentagon on weapons cuts and benefit reductions is unacceptable.

Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met privately Tuesday with House Democrats just hours before the House was scheduled to begin work on the $601 billion legislation that has strong bipartisan support.

The election-year bill spares aircraft and ships while rejecting the Pentagon's budget-saving effort to close unnecessary military bases and increase out-of-pocket costs for housing and health care for personnel and their families.

The White House issued a veto threat on Monday. Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky said McDonough told Democrats that it's fine if Congress doesn't produce a bill this year.