WASHINGTON: One day after House and Senate conferees finally came to agreement on the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, President Obama appeared ready to make good on half a decade of threats to veto the annual defense policy bill. Hours after that bad news hit, Congress cleared a Continuing Resolution this evening, allowing everyone to breath for a few months.
“That’s an irresponsible way to fund our national defense priorities,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing, referring to the GOP decision to bypass Budget Control Act caps by moving money into the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund. “If the president got this bill, he’d veto it.”
Republicans bypassed the BCA spending caps (the so-called sequester) by shoving nearly $90 billion into the OCO account, designating routine spending as an emergency war expenses exempted from the caps.
This gimmick got President Barack Obama the funding he requested but left the caps in place on domestic spending, a Democratic priority.
Reaction from the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees was swift and pungent.
“The White House’s announcement that President Obama will veto the National Defense Authorization Act is shameful,” Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said in a statement. “The NDAA 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.”
McCain’s House counterpart, Rep. Mac Thornberry, slammed the president for the decision: “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, especially at a time when the world situation is spiraling out of control from Eastern Europe to the Middle East and South Asia. This is a time to stand together for our nation’s security, rather than play cheap political games.”
The White House appears ready to veto the bill over something virtually no American knows about or would probably care about. But the Democrats seem committed to take this fight on. Only one Democrat signed the conference report for the NDAA, signaling the clear split between the two parties over a bill that has traditionally been the one bipartisan thing America could actually rely on Congress to do every year.
What comes next is difficult to predict. Let’s hope this all ends as Eaglen hopes.