Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed cloture Thursday on the conference report for the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, setting up a procedural vote to limit debate most likely on Tuesday.
Earlier on Thursday, the House adopted the conference report for the legislation, H.R. 1735, but not with enough votes to override a threatened veto of the bill by President Obama. House members voted 270-156 to advance the conference report, with Democratic opposition sufficient enough to sustain a veto. The House would need a two-thirds majority — at least 290 votes — to override the promised veto from the president.
While the Obama administration opposes numerous provisions in the compromise legislation — including its failure to approve a BRAC round in 2017 and restrictions on closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay — the most significant objection stems from the measure’s reliance on DOD’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) account to sidestep the Budget Control Act spending caps.
The bill would authorize $612 billion in national security spending, the same amount the White House requested. The measure leaves the discretionary budget caps in place, and authorizes only $496 billion for DOD’s base budget. To make up the shortfall, it shifts $38 billion in operation and maintenance funds from the base budget to DOD’s OCO account, which is not subject to the caps. The bill would authorize a total of $89 billion for that account.
The White House has demanded that Congress lift the caps on both defense and non-defense spending, and return the $38 billion to DOD’s base budget.
Much of the debate prior to the House vote focused on the veto threat, which Republicans criticized given that the total amount of spending authorized under the bill equals the administration’s budget request, reported CQ.
“Frankly whether you call it base funding, OCO funding or pumpernickel it doesn’t matter. It is money that goes to the troops,” said House Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who accused the White House of “playing politics.”
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam Smith (Wash.), acknowledged the legislation was “by and large a good bill,” but said the GOP budget framework evaded the larger issue of the discretionary spending caps.
“Is this good for our country? Is it good for our troops?” Smith said. “I don’t believe that it is.”