Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Obama vetoes defense policy bill

THE TOPLINE: President Obama vetoed a bipartisan defense policy bill on Thursday, prompting condemnation from Republicans. 

The veto — Obama’s fifth so far — is the also the fifth time the bill — which authorizes Pentagon policy and funding — has ever been vetoed.

The veto came mainly over objections to a larger budget fight with Republicans.

{mosads}The White House wanted Republicans to lift budget caps on government spending put into place by the 2011 Budget Control Act, in order to raise both defense and non-defense spending. 

Republicans were willing to increase defense spending, but not non-defense spending, and devised a budget that left the caps in place, but allowed for a boost in defense only by putting more money into a war fund not subject to the caps. 

While the defense policy bill would not have actually appropriated any funding, it legitimized the plan by authorizing money at the capped level, and the use of the war fund.

Republicans quickly blasted the move, highlighting policies contained in the bill that would have benefited troops and local communities.

For example, the bill reforms the military retirement system that would allow almost 85 percent of U.S. troops to receive retirement benefits, versus only those serving at least 20 years.

It also contains sweeping reforms for the Pentagon’s slow and inefficient weapons buying system. And the bill also contains a 1.3 percent pay raise for troops, which would take effect in January.

It also authorizes the administration to provide arms directly to the Kurdish Peshmerga in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and provide arms to Ukrainian forces. 

“At a time when crises around the world have never been greater, and when U.S. global leadership has never been weaker, this veto will only intensify the challenges we face while putting vital missions in danger,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, said in a statement.

Other statements were far more blunt, charging that the president did not care about troops and national security.

“Our troops deserve to know that the Commander in Chief has their back. And when the Commander in Chief does not, it’s a signal that the blood we have shed doesn’t matter,” said Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), a retired Navy SEAL.

“After fighting so hard to make sure Iran’s terrorist militia would be well-armed and funded, President Obama is now turning his back on our own American men and women in uniform,” said Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), another former service member. 

House Republicans have scheduled a vote to override the president’s veto on Nov. 5. 

Democrats tried to counter the Republicans’ message, arguing the bill’s reliance on the war fund hurts the Pentagon. 

“President Obama and Congressional Democrats have a clear record of supporting a robust national defense, which is why the President proposed a strong defense budget,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip.

“I will vote to sustain the President’s veto, and I hope my colleagues will join me in doing so that Congress can return to the work of passing a bipartisan defense authorization bill, one that advances US national security,” he said.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, added, “There is a lot we can agree on here, and if we dropped the OCO [Overseas Contingency Operations war fund] charade and got back to honest budgeting, I believe we could pass a stronger NDAA with near unanimous support.”

Some Democrats were more cautious and many were silent on the veto.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) — who caucuses with Democrats — called the veto “disappointing.”

“I share the President’s concerns about the misuse of overseas contingency funds to balance our defense budget, but believe that this defense policy bill is the wrong place to draw the line,” he said after the president’s veto.

Human rights group applauded the veto, due to the bill’s inclusion of more stringent restrictions on Guantanamo Bay detainee transfers. 

But the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s Mackenzie Eaglen said the veto could have a big effect on the military.

Given that the Defense Department is the world’s largest organization at 3 million people, there are many new policies that go into effect each year that are critically important and time-sensitive like expanded policies regarding suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention and response,” she said. 

She said additional policies that will be delayed as a result of the veto including setting the total size of the US military; establishment of an Army breastfeeding policy; and procedures by which members of the Armed Forces may carry an appropriate firearm on a military installation.

With the president’s veto, the bill goes back to the House, where members will seek to override the president’s veto. If that fails, they must restart the process again. 

The final version of the bill had passed the House by 270-156 and the Senate by 70-27.



Human Rights First’s Raha Wala: “Congress and the administration need to create a workable path toward closing Guantanamo as they finalize the defense bill.”­­

Virginia Sloan, president of The Constitution Project: “The Constitution Project applauds President Obama’s decision to reject onerous and unwarranted restrictions on the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay by vetoing the defense authorization bill.”

ACLU: “Now Congress needs to send back the president a bill that will let him close Guantánamo and end indefinite detention, and he needs to take decisive action to make his promise to close the prison a reality. He needs to do this soon, before his legacy is irreparably tarnished by the stain of Guantánamo.”

Angela Canterbury, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Executive Director: “President Obama is right to prevent Congress from breaking their own rules of so-called fiscal discipline.”



House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio): “This indefensible veto blocks pay and vital tools for our troops while Iranian terrorists prepare to gain billions under the president’s nuclear deal. Congress should not allow this veto to stand.”  

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.): “President Obama’s decision to veto the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act is a slap in the face to all those who serve in our nation’s military.” 

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.): “The President has spoken repeatedly about the good that domestic spending can do, but in states like Virginia, where more than 10 percent of the population is made up of military families and veterans, defense spending is domestic spending.”  

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio): “This action comes a week after the president announced the extension of our mission in Afghanistan, and just hours after one of our brave servicemen was killed while rescuing hostages being prepared for execution by ISIS in Iraq.” 

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): “Pay and support for our troops and their families should not be held hostage to the President’s political posturing.” 



FIRST US COMBAT DEATH IN ISIS WAR: The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that one U.S. service member was fatally wounded earlier in the day during an Iraq mission to rescue about 70 hostages from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), the first U.S. combat death against the group.

“On behalf of the men and women of the Department of Defense, we offer our sincere condolences to the family of the U.S. service member who was killed in this operation,” said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook. 

So far, there have been nine previous U.S. deaths as part of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS, but all of them in non-hostile situations.

The president has said there would be no ground troops fighting in Iraq, but he has sent about 3,500 U.S. troops to act as advisers and trainers for the Iraqi security force.

Cook later at a press briefing pushed back against the idea that U.S. troops were in combat in Iraq, calling the situation “unique” and at the behest of the Kurdish Regional Government.  

The mission, carried out by U.S. Special Operations Forces, was in support of an Iraqi Peshmerga operation to rescue the hostages at an ISIS prison near Hawijah. Four Peshmerga soldiers were wounded in the mission.

Approximately 70 hostages were rescued, including more than 20 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, Cook said. Five ISIS terrorists were detained by the Iraqis and “a number” were killed as well. In addition, the U.S. recovered important intelligence about ISIS, Cook said. 



 — Defense hawks launch preemptive budget strike

— McConnell: Obama ‘bragging‘ about defense bill veto

— Ahead of veto, Armed Services chairmen blast Obama

— Fiery exchanges dominate all-day Clinton testimony on Benghazi

— Seven memorable moments from Benghazi hearing


Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com, and Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com 

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill@kristina_wong@Rebecca_H_K

Tags Angus King Boehner Jack Reed John Boehner John McCain Orrin Hatch Rob Wittman
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