President Obama will veto the annual defense policy bill, the White House said Wednesday as it escalated a clash over spending into a major war-time deadlock that threatens everything from troops’ pay raises to warship building plans.
Republican negotiators on Capitol Hill reached a deal Tuesday on the policy bill, authorizing the Pentagon to tap into emergency war funds to cover a budget hole in regular defense operations. Mr. Obama, though, says he won’t accept a boost in defense spending unless Congress also busts the budget caps and approves an equal hike in domestic programs.
“That’s why if the president got this bill, he’d veto it,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the threat “shameful” at a time of increasing international dangers, and said Mr. Obama was misdirecting his anger over spending.
“What this legislation does do, among other things, is ban torture, increase the pay for our men and women in uniform, strengthen sexual assault prevention and response, extend retirement benefits to hundreds of thousands of service members, and allow the president to continue transferring detainees to foreign countries,” Mr. McCain said.
The defense policy bill sets out goals and authorizes spending, though it doesn’t actually disburse any money. That comes in the annual defense spending bill.
Democrats say the two are closely tied, since the policy bill allows use of the war funding.
The dispute goes back to the “sequester” budget cuts Mr. Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner agreed to in 2011 as part of that summer’s debt deal. Those cuts were supposed to strike defense and domestic programs equally.
But this year, with the GOP now in control of the House and Senate, Republican defense hawks said the cuts are hitting the Pentagon too deeply, and said threatened to withhold support for the 2016 budget until defense got a boost.
Unable to pass a bill without the hawks’ votes, GOP leaders relented — but added the funding as emergency war-spending, which isn’t counted against the sequester caps.
Democrats said it was a gimmick, and have blocked the entire annual spending process in the Senate in objection.