White House lists issues with Senate defense policy bill

White House lists issues with Senate defense policy bill
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The White House on Friday listed its concerns with the Senate's version of an annual defense policy bill but didn't go as far as saying President Trump would veto the legislation should it land on his desk.

The administration's specific objections to the bill include a prohibition on new base closures, changes to how the president can curtail military pay raises, organizational changes at the Pentagon, steps to develop a missile that would violate a treaty and a continued prohibition on recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, among a slew of other provisions.

“The bill supports key administration priorities including ending the defense sequester, rebuilding our military readiness and modernizing our Armed Forces for the future,” a statement of administration policy from the Office of Management and Budget said. “The administration looks forward to working with Congress to address its concerns.”

Still, the administration generally commended the bill for bulking up defense spending.

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In July, the White House similarly listed a number of concerns with the House-passed version of the bill while generally approving of its increased defense dollars.

The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is coming to the chamber’s floor next week, would authorize a total of $700 billion for defense. That would be split between $640 billion for the base defense budget and $60 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

The bill goes above the Trump administration’s request for a $603 billion base defense budget and $65 billion for OCO.

Both the bill and the administration’s request are above budget caps, sometimes referred to as sequester, which would need to be changed by separate legislation.

The administration has requested Congress to authorize a new round of base closures, known as BRAC. The NDAA would again prohibit one.

“The administration strongly objects to section 2702 and strongly urges Congress to provide BRAC authorization, as requested, so that DOD can ensure it is not wasting resources on unneeded infrastructure,” Friday’s statement said.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) and ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Army leader on waiver report: 'There's been no change in standards' 15 Dems urge FEC to adopt new rules for online political ads MORE (D-R.I.) have filed an amendment to allow for a new BRAC. But Congress has consistently voted down such efforts, as lawmakers fear negative economic effects on communities with military bases.

The administration also raised constitutional objections to provisions in the bill that ban military cooperation between the United States and Russia and funds from being used to recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea. The provisions have become standard, noncontroversial language in the bill in the years since Russia annexed Crimea.

The provisions would interfere with “the president’s exclusive authority to recognize foreign nations” and “to conduct diplomacy and command the armed forces,” the statement said.

Trump's White House said Friday it opposes a provision that would allow for a research and development program for a dual-capable road-mobile ground-launched missile system with a maximum range of 5,500 kilometers.

Such a missile would violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia. The United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty, and the bill frames the program as a way to get Russia back into compliance with the treaty.

The statement argued the administration is in the midst of a review on how to respond and said the provision would “unhelpfully” tie the administration’s hands.

“The administration would support broad authorization of research and development on missile systems, including those prohibited by the treaty, to determine candidate systems that could become programs of record,” the statement added.

The administration also objected to a provision that changes when the president is allowed to provide a lower pay raise to troops than authorized by law. Right now, the president can lower the raise because of “national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare.”

President Trump this year used the economic reason to lower the pay raise, as did President Obama for many years. The NDAA would eliminate that reason.

“Being able to adjust military compensation nimbly in response to serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare is not only essential to the administration’s responsibility to recruit and retain a ready and capable uniformed services, but it is also required to balance military compensation costs against other investments critical to readiness, equipment and modernization,” the statement said.

The White House also “strongly objects” to a provision that would set a U.S. policy on cybersecurity and cyber warfare, the statement said, arguing that steps on the president’s role in foreign and military policy.

The list of objections continues with the administration saying it takes issue with the bill authorizing one littoral combat ship, instead of two. The administration’s original budget request asked for just one ship, but the White House later issued an updated request for two.

Changes to the Pentagon’s organization also concern the Trump administration. The NDAA would give more power to the chief management officer, create the role of chief information warfare officer and eliminate a number of assistant secretary positions at the Pentagon and in the military services.

The statement said the administration “hopes to work collaboratively” with Congress to better understand why it is pushing those changes.