WASHINGTON: The House couldn’t do it, but the Senate passed a veto-proof vote today for the annual defense policy bill.
The final Senate vote, 70-27, included two no votes from GOP Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, both of whom are trying to run for president. The House voted 270-156, with 37 Democrats joining Republicans in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act. Two thirds of the House would have had to support the bill to make it veto proof.
All this matters because the Obama administration has, of course, threatened to veto the bill. All but one Democrat on the House side refused to sign the report when it was passed, and the administration has consistently said senior advisors would recommend the bill be vetoed because of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding gimmick Republicans have used to give the administration the full funding it requested. Democrats say, in an awfully partisan manner, that the Republican gimmick should doom one of the most important bills Congress sometimes passes. The NDAA is so important that it always get enacted, though it has been vetoed four times in 50 years.
Republicans bypassed the Budget Control Act 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.
John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the Republicans’ case pretty clearly today in a speech on the Senate floor:
“Their objection is that by placing these funds in the OCO account, Democrats believe the NDAA would minimize the harm sequestration would do to our military, but fail to do the same for domestic spending programs,” he said. “But this complaint fails to understand a basic fact – the only legislation that can stop sequestration, whether for defense or non-defense, is an appropriations bill. In fact, Republicans and Democrats are engaged right now in negotiations to find a bipartisan budget deal that would provide sequestration relief. I hope they succeed. But the idea that the precise location in the NDAA of certain funds for our troops will have any impact on the substance or outcome of those negotiations is ludicrous.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry, McCain’s counterpart in the House, described the presidential veto as ”completely misguided. Particularly at this dangerous time in the world, we should all put our people and nation first.”
The NDAA is so important that in 50 years of existence it has been vetoed only four times, Claude Chafin, spokesman of the House Armed Services, notes in a recent email. The bills eventually passed, as this one probably will.
“In each case, the President objected to an actual provision in the bill, and each time the Armed Services Committees were able to find a compromise that earned the President’s signature,” House Armed Services Committee spokesman Claude Chafin notes in a recent email. “This is the frist time that the Commander-in-Chief will sacrifice national security by vetoing a bill that provides pay and benefits for our troops, as leverage for his larger domestic political agenda.”
Here’s Chafin’s summary of the previous vetos.
“According to CRS and Committee Records:
“FY 79 NDAA- Vetoed over funding for Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers
“FY 89 NDAA- Vetoed over missile defense policy
“FY 96 NDAA – Vetoed over issues related to the ABM treaty
“FY 08 NDAA – Vetoed, with the support of Congress, over a late interpretation of a provision on Iraq.”
Frank Kendall, a vastly experienced veteran of NDAAs past, said yesterday he thought stripping the OCO funding out of the bill would probably be the way round not having a defense policy bill. Since it’s not a spending bill that would seem to make sense. The Pentagon’s head of acquisition has hundreds of good reasons to want a bill. So do the men and women who serve our country in uniform. So does the American public.