Report: Congress Has Removed Defense Bill Provisions Four Times To Avoid Veto

Jonah Bennett on October 8, 2015

Recent experience suggests that in the event of a defense bill standoff between Congress and the White House, the White House tends to win.

At least, that’s what’s happened the past four times when the White House threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act, according to a new report released by the Congressional Research Service.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently issued a recommendation for President Barack Obama to veto the 2016 defense budget bill, citing abuse of the Overseas Contingency Fund as way around sequestration. An actual veto would mark the fifth time in U.S. history that the defense budget did not pass muster with the White House.

In every case, the White House won.

This time around, the White House disagrees with Congress’ attempt to circumvent budget caps through shoving programs into the controversial Overseas Contingency Operations fund, an account ostensibly designed for variable and emergency war-related expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan. Part of the reason for the fund’s existence is that occasionally war expenses don’t neatly track with the regular budget process. But OCO has ended up functioning as a method to bypass limits imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and slide in routine programs that belong in the base budget.

Now that the defense bill has passed the Senate, with support from nearly every Republican aside from Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, it will head to Obama’s desk. And it is unlikely that Obama is bluffing about a veto. While the votes exist in the Senate to override a presidential veto, those votes don’t exist in the House. Minority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that Democrats will stand behind Obama’s decision.

GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, complained about the veto threat and how it diminishes the credibility of U.S. political institutions around the world.

“Why not get this done, and at least show the world that our political institutions can function for our own national defense?” Thornberry said, according to Defense One. “Y’all, think about the headlines today — the Russians launch cruise missiles, a new ground offensive is starting in Syria — there is danger wherever you look. This is absolutely one of the worst times I can imagine to veto a bill that supports our troops, that gives the president additional tools.”

The White House has also complained about additional restrictions in the bill regarding the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, though GOP Sen. John McCain, who has sided with the Obama administration on the need to shutter the facility, blamed the White House for not sending a final closure plan to Congress for consideration in time. (RELATED: McCain Blames Obama Administration For Not Submitting Gitmo Closure Plan In Time)

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