Obama Vetoes FY2016 NDAA

Obama Vetoes FY2016 NDAA

As promised, President Obama vetoed the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today (Thursday).  The primary reason is a “gimmick” it uses to add funds for defense in an off-budget account, but he also cited two other reasons:  it prevents needed reforms and does not allow closing of Guantanamo.

Obama had threatened to veto the bill, but since he had not followed through on NDAA veto threats in prior years, many wondered if he would this time.

In a statement, the President said the bill, H.R. 1735, “does a number of good things” but “falls woefully short in three areas.”   First, it does not eliminate the sequester but “resorts to gimmicks that does not allow the Pentagon to do what it needs to do.”   That is a reference to the congressional decision to add $38 billion to defense spending in an off-budget account, Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), rather than negotiating new budget caps for all government spending, defense and non-defense, that would replace across-the-board cuts known as a sequester agreed to in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Second, it “prevents a wide range of reforms that are necessary for us to get our military modernized…  We have repeatedly put forward a series of reforms eliminating programs that the Pentagon does not want — Congress keeps stepping back in, and we end up wasting money.”

Third, it impedes “our ability to close Guantanamo in a way that I have repeatedly argued is counterproductive to our efforts to defeat terrorism around the world.”

He called on Congress to change the bill to address those shortcomings.

In response, the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) called the veto “reckless, cynical, and downright dangerous.”   Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accused the President of using the defense bill “as political leverage for his domestic agenda.” 

Their statement said the House will vote on November 5 to override the veto. When the final version of the bill passed the House on October 1, there were insufficient votes to override a veto., however.   Two-thirds of the House and Senate would need to vote in favor of overriding the veto for the effort to succeed.  That is 290 votes in the House.  If all 247 Republicans voted to override the veto, they would need to convince 43 Democrats to join them, but only 37 Democrats voted for the bill.  All of those, plus six more, would have to make a more difficult political decision to vote against their President’s veto.

This is only the fifth bill the President has vetoed since he took office.  The others were the 2010 Continuing Appropriations bill (in 2009), the 2010 Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act, the 2015 Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act, and the 2015 Joint Resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the rule submitted by the National Labor Relations Board relating to representative case procedures.


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