Pentagon chief recommends veto of defense policy bill

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Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on Wednesday he has already recommended that President Obama veto the 2016 defense policy bill a day after the House and Senate announced they hammered out areas of disagreement on it. 

When asked Wednesday at a press briefing if he would recommend to the president a veto, Carter responded, “I already have, and he’s indicated if it were presented to him in this form in which it appears it is going to be presented to him, it is going to be vetoed.”

{mosads}The White House also said Wednesday it would veto the bill, which authorizes funding for the Pentagon. 

“If the president got this bill, he’d veto it,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. 

Despite repeated veto threats, the House and Senate passed their versions of the bill earlier this year on a bipartisan basis. The Armed Services Committees announced they had reached a compromise on a final bill on Tuesday. 

The House plans to vote on the final bill on Thursday, and the Senate is expected to take it up next week. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill since it authorizes spending levels he opposes. 

While the bill would authorize $612 billion for the Defense Department — the same amount the White House has requested — it would leave budget caps known as sequester in place, but funnel $38 billion through a war fund not subject to the caps. 

Meanwhile, the White House wants Congress to lift the caps on both defense and nondefense spending, and instead put the $38 billion into the Pentagon’s base budget. 

Earnest called using the war fund to skirt lifting the budget caps “irresponsible.” 

The top Democrats on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees concurred with the White House, saying that although they helped negotiate the bill, they did not plan on voting for it. 

“There are many needed reforms in the Conference Committee Report, but the use of emergency war funds does not realistically provide for the long-term support of our forces,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said in a statement Wednesday. 

“It fails to responsibly fix the sequester and provide our troops with the support they deserve,” he said. 

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) echoed those comments in a statement, writing, “This bill misuses the Overseas Contingency Operation fund to evade the congressionally mandated budget caps and is itself a political game.” 

Committee chairmen, however, blasted the veto threat. 

“It is unbelievable to me that an American President would threaten to veto a defense bill that supports our troops and gives him additional tools to use against aggressors,” wrote Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) in a satement. 

“This is a time to stand together for our nation’s security, rather than play cheap political games,” he said.

And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the veto threat “shameful.” 

“The NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] is a policy bill. It does not spend a dollar, and it certainly cannot raise the budget caps or deliver an agreement to fund the government. It is absurd to veto the NDAA for something that the NDAA cannot do,” he said.  

He pointed out the policies that would be authorized under the bill, which included banning torture, authorize troop pay raises, allow troops serving fewer than 20 years to receive retirement benefits, and allow the president to continue transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. 

“If the President vetoes the NDAA, at this time of mounting global threats, he will be prioritizing politics and process over the security of our nation and the well-being of our Armed Forces,” McCain said. 

Tags Adam Smith Jack Reed John McCain National Defense Authorization Act

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