October 9, 2015
On Wednesday, the Senate passed the defense bill, a few
days after the House. Now it’s gone to the White House for signature.
But President Obama has said he will veto it next week.
He is concerned Congress skirted statutory budget caps by adding (a much needed)
$38 billion in a supplemental wartime account exempt from budget caps.
Why does the White House see that as a problem? For one thing, the Pentagon needs funding in
the baseline defense budget to make longer-term plans and commitments. A one-year
supplement does not make that easy.
But the bigger political issue is that the president
and many in Congress think the arbitrary budget cap is too low for non-defense
programs, too. If the Pentagon is to get needed relief, they believe
non-defense programs should as well.
The message of a veto is that the full funding should
be in the basic defense budget, and the non-defense spending caps should be
raised at the same time.
On Oct. 1, MOAA President Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, USN
(Ret.) wrote the president urging against a veto. “As much as
we disagree with some of the provisions,” Ryan said, “the fact is that we are
still a nation at war, and this legislation is vital to fulfilling wartime
Some concerned MOAA members have already asked, “Why
not support the veto and try to get fixes to some of the things we don’t like?”
The reality is that a veto will not reopen any of the
things MOAA is concerned about in the bill.
Those fights have been fought in the Armed Services
committees, with compromises – sometimes grudgingly – reached in the interest
of getting a bill passed. There is zero possibility of any of those things
being renegotiated in a Hill environment that is focused almost exclusively on
If the president vetoes the defense bill, the only
thing that has any chance at all of being reworked is the portion of the budget
that’s carried in the regular budget vs the supplemental piece. But the issue
of how those changes are paid for is exactly what has Congress tied up in
The worst-case veto scenario is a frustrated Congress
could just eliminate the supplemental account, and pass a defense bill with $38
billion less funding.
Alternatively, the defense bill would go back into the
roiling pot with the other major budget issues – raising the debt ceiling,
figuring out the entire government budget, and funding it through a continuing
resolution or some other measure.
MOAA is already concerned that negotiations on these
political hot potatoes may still lead to a federal shutdown.
We do not want to risk losing the defense bill as well
by kicking it back to what will be an even more severely divided congress due
to current uncertainty in leadership.
To MOAA, the best option is to sign the defense bill
with the $38 billion in contingency money now, keep the White House and
Congress focused on negotiations on the already huge challenges for the
remaining legislative year, and push our remaining legislative agenda in 2016.
to send President Obama a MOAA-suggested
message asking him not to veto
the defense bill.