White House threatens veto of House defense bill

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House threatened on Tuesday to veto the House Armed Service Committee's version of next year's defense budget, arguing that the $642 billion measure adds billions to President Barack Obama's request and limits the military's ability to execute a new defense strategy.

In a scathing, seven-page statement, the Office of Management and Budget ticked off a list of objections to the spending blueprint, from the overall amount to provisions on gays in the military, nuclear weapons and limits on the use of biofuels. The statement came the day before the Republican-controlled House is to begin debate on the bill. House passage of the measure is expected on Friday.

The bill's total is $8 billion more than what Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to last summer in a deficit-cutting deal. The bill outlines a base defense budget of $554 billion, including nuclear weapons spending, plus $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts. Obama had proposed $551 billion, plus $88 billion.

Republicans added several provisions limiting the president's ability to retire aircraft, ships and a version of the Global Hawk drone. The legislation would restrict the commander in chief's ability to implement a new treaty with Russia to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The legislation also calls for construction of a new missile defense site on the East Coast even though Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the current array of defense sites is sufficient.

The bill, the administration said, impedes "the ability of the secretary of defense and the secretary of energy to make and implement management decisions that eliminate unnecessary overhead or programs to ensure scarce resources are directed to the highest priorities for the national security." The administration said if the cumulative effects of the legislation restrict efforts to carry out the new defense strategy, the president's senior advisers would recommend a veto.

The statement comes just days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta accused the committee of ignoring the careful strategic review that was the basis for the 2013 budget proposal. Panetta and Dempsey warned that if the Pentagon is prevented from retiring aging ships and aircraft or reducing the size of the force, it might have to cut training or equipment.

"If members try to restore their favorite programs without regard to an overall strategy, the cuts will have to come from areas that could impact overall readiness." Panetta said. "There is no free lunch here. Every dollar that is added will have to be offset by cuts in national security."

That set off a war of words with Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. McKeon, in a letter Friday to Panetta, said it was false for the secretary to assert that every dollar added came at the expense of another national security program.

The administration strongly objected to Republican-backed provisions that bar same-sex marriages on military installations, measures added by committee conservatives still angry with the decision to allow gays to serve openly in the military. The administration said the provision would "inhibit the ability of same-sex couples to marry or enter a recognized relationship under state law."

Although the House is expected to back the bill, the overall amount and many of the provisions stand little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that he supports the deficit-cutting agreement amount set last year. "My intent to try to hold the line on the spending limit because that's what the law last year set," said Levin, who met with Panetta last week.

Asked about the missile defense site on the East Coast, Levin said, "The military leaders said we don't need it."

Separately, analysts at the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would raise net costs by $57 billion from 2014-17.

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