Top House Armed Services Dem to oppose defense bill

Top House Armed Services Dem to oppose defense bill
© Anne Wernikoff

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — House lawmakers eye military pay raise next year House lawmakers want military pay raise for enlisted troops Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Navy probe reveals disastrous ship fire response MORE (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he will oppose the 2016 defense policy bill, hours before the House plans to consider it on the floor.

"I have great respect for Chairman Thornberry, but I cannot vote for this bill under these circumstances," Smith said in a statement referring to the panel's chairman. 

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The statement came hours after an aide said that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would whip votes against the bill, and a day after the White House reissued a veto threat in objection to many of its provisions. 

The bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, is an annual must-pass legislation that authorizes Pentagon funding and activities. 

While the bill authorizes $612 billion in funding -- the same as the president's 2016 defense budget request, it does so by leaving budget caps in place on the Pentagon's base budget and boosting war funding, instead of lifting the caps. 

The White House and Democrats object, saying the caps should be lifted for both defense and domestic spending, not just defense. 

"Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the Budget Control Act caps are extremely damaging and as long as Congress fails to enact a solution, a variety of key national priorities will continue to suffer," Smith said in his statement. 

He called the use of boosting war funding -- which isn't subject to the caps -- a "gimmick." The funding, known as Overseas Contingency Operations funding, is meant to fund short-term wars and contingencies for a year at a time. 

"I understand that finding a compromise to remove the caps has been elusive, but that does not justify the use of gimmicks to protect one part of the budget, and shortchange other portions that are vitally important to the future of our country," he said. 

"Even worse, this short-term work-around does not enable the Department of Defense to undertake long term planning or provide the certainty that they can count on such funding in the future," he said. 

Smith said the House would be "wasting time" with the bill -- which was passed by the House Armed Services Committee by a 60-2 bipartisan vote. 

If the bill passes, it would be conferenced with the Senate's version that is being crafted now, and then head to the president's desk. The Senate is due to finish its markup of the bill late this week. 

"In the coming months, it is my hope that the House, Senate and President can come together and strike a compromise to remove the budget caps and move forward with a responsible approaching to budgeting," Smith said.