President Obama will veto the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill today during a photo-op in the Oval Office, the White House announced late Wednesday.
The move had been expected as Obama has repeatedly warned he would send the defense policy measure back to Congress over its reliance on the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account to skirt the 2011 Budget Control Act spending caps.
Earlier Wednesday, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told lawmakers he would accept funding funneled through the department’s war account, given the state of Congress and the lack of other options.
“My approach on that as secretary was take every dollar I can get where I can get it,” Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee, reported the Hill. “In the current paralyzed state, maybe there’s no alternative right now to getting money this way,” he said of the Republican gambit to stash tens of billions of dollars in the OCO account to evade the budget limits.
Obama opposes the use of the OCO account to fully fund defense programs in fiscal 2016 and has threatened to veto the defense authorization bill over the issue. Obama also has said he would not sign any spending bills that provide budget relief for the Pentagon but not for non-defense agencies.
The former secretary, however, hardly endorsed the use of the OCO account for operations and maintenance funds that normally would be in the department’s base budget.
“It’s a terrible way to budget,” Gates said during his first testimony on Capitol Hill since stepping down as defense secretary in 2011. “It is a gimmick.”
He said a commitment to regular order budgeting by Congress would be a prerequisite for reforming DOD, the intended subject of the hearing. Forcing the department to operate under a continuing resolution, sequestration or a government shutdown costs money.
Under those circumstances, he said, programs can’t be started on schedule, the department can’t take advantage of savings resulting from multi-year purchases and man-hours are wasted preparing for exigencies.
Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Gates’ assessment “damning but accurate.”