Veto Threats Slow Congressional Action on Defense, Intelligence Measures

Veto Threats Slow Congressional Action on Defense, Intelligence Measures

Congressional action on the authorization bills for the Department of Defense (H.R. 2647) and the Intelligence Community (H.R. 2701/S. 1494), and the DOD appropriations bill (H.R. 3326), has slowed for a number of reasons, but one is veto threats from the White House over certain provisions in the bills.

The White House is threatening to veto the intelligence authorization bill if it passes in final form as reported to the House from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). The House has not yet voted on the bill. As reported, it contains language in Sec. 321 regarding who in Congress is to be notified of particularly sensitive intelligence activities. Currently only the “Gang of Four” – the top Democrat and Republican on HPSCI and its Senate counterpart (SPSCI) – or the “Gang of Eight” – those four plus the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate — is briefed on such matters (see Congressional Research Service report R40698 for an explanation of these terms and procedures). The disputed language would allow HPSCI and SPSCI to set their own rules as to who on those committees is briefed. The Senate passed its version of the bill in September. During Senate debate, it was noted that no intelligence authorization bill has cleared Congress in four years. The Senate-passed version would strengthen notification requirements, but apparently not enough to prompt a veto threat.

The White House is unhappy with the DOD authorization bill because conferees included funding to develop and procure an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter so there are two options for the engine. The White House is confident that the current engine program is adequate and sees no need for a second option. The Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate bill stated that if the final version of the bill included funds for an alternate engine, a veto would be recommended, but that did not sway the Senate or the conferees. The House passed the conference version of the bill on October 8; the Senate may consider it this week. characterized the veto threat as “wimpy.”

The DOD appropriations bill also is under a veto threat because the House version contains funding for the F-35 alternate engine and the VH-71 presidential helicopter program that the Administration similarly does not want. The veto threat was contained in an October 14, 2009 letter from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to the chair and ranking minority member of the House defense appropriations subcommittee. The letter is posted on The House and Senate have passed their versions of the bill. The Senate version does not contain funds for either the F-35 alternate engine or the VH-71 helicopter. Conferees may meet this week.

Not sure about the difference between an authorization and an appropriation? See our “What’s a Markup?” fact sheet.

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