The veto threat

De­spite some rea­son­able ob­jec­tions, Pres­i­dent Obama should sign the de­fense au­tho­riza­tion bill.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

AMER­I­CAN PRES­I­DENTS rarely veto na­tional de­fense au­tho­riza­tion bills, since they are, well, vi­tal to na­tional se­cu­rity. Since Congress passed the first of these blue­prints for Pen­tagon spend­ing 50-plus years ago, there have been four ve­toes — two by Demo­cratic pres­i­dents, two by Repub­li­cans — ac­cord­ing to the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. Each time, the pres­i­dent acted be­cause of a dis­agree­ment with some pol­icy pro­vi­sion.

As ex­pressed by White House spokesman Josh Earnest, then, Pres­i­dent Obama’s threat to veto the fis­cal 2016 de­fense bill that emerged from a House-Se­nate con­fer­ence com­mit­tee and passed the House with bi­par­ti­san sup­port on Oct. 1 is a bit un­usual: The ra­tio­nale is pro­ce­dural.

The $612 bil­lion bill des­ig­nates $89.2 bil­lion of “over­seas con­tin­gency” funds — that is, money for warfight­ing — as reg­u­lar Depart­ment of De­fense bud­get au­thor­ity (plus nu­clear-weapon­sre­lated Energy Depart­ment pro­grams), so the Pen­tagon can es­cape manda­tory “se­ques­tra­tion” bud­get cuts. “That’s an ir­re­spon­si­ble way to fund our na­tional de­fense pri­or­i­ties,” Mr. Earnest de­clared.

Does the White House have a point? Yes: The over­seas con­tin­gency bud­get gim­mick is no way to con­duct busi­ness, dou­bly ob­jec­tion­able be­cause do­mes­tic bud­get ac­counts would re­main sub­ject to the se­ques­tra­tion caps.

Fur­ther­more, the pres­i­dent months ago made clear his dis­like for any bill that might in­clude such a gim­mick, so the Repub­li­can au­thors of the bill knew they were send­ing him veto bait, pos­si­bly to score po­lit­i­cal points by cast­ing Mr. Obama as anti-de­fense.

In an ideal world, the two par­ties would be work­ing to­gether on a com­pro­mise plan to lift se­ques­tra­tion for both mil­i­tary and do­mes­tic pro­grams and pay for the ad­di­tional spend­ing with off­set­ting taxes and sav­ings. Those sav­ings would in­clude re­forms to en­ti­tle­ments, which are the true cause of our fis­cal predica­ment, not the de­fense and non-de­fense dis­cre­tionary ac­counts. Come to think of it, in a per­fect world, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion would never have coun­te­nanced the se­quester’s trade-off be­tween do­mes­tic and mil­i­tary spend­ing on the (mis­taken) bet that Repub­li­cans cared so much about the lat­ter that they would agree to more of the for­mer.

What mat­ters now, how­ever, is that the Pen­tagon have cer­tainty and pre­dictabil­ity in a time of mount­ing ten­sion in the Mid­dle East and Eastern Europe. The bill’s $612 bil­lion price tag is roughly the to­tal Mr. Obama him­self re­quested. As it hap­pens, the bill also con­tains im­por­tant pol­icy changes: ma­jor com­pen­sa­tion re­form that cre­ates re­tire­ment sav­ings op­tions for more ser­vice mem­bers, a ban on tor­ture and $50 mil­lion in lethal mil­i­tary aid for Ukraine.

Mr. Obama prob­a­bly op­poses the lat­ter man­date (which the bill would al­low his ad­min­is­tra­tion to waive), as well as the bill’s con­tin­u­ance of ex­ist­ing con­straints on his power to empty and close the prison at Guan­tanamo. The fact re­mains: That’s not the main pub­licly stated rea­son to veto.

Re­fus­ing to sign this bill would make history, but not in a good way. Mr. Obama should let it be­come law and seek other sources of lever­age in pur­su­ing his le­git­i­mate goals for do­mes­tic se­ques­tra­tion re­lief.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.