The Senate on Wednesday cleared the conference report for the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, setting up a possible veto by President Obama over the next 10 days.
Twenty Democrats and Independent Angus King (Maine) joined almost every Republican to provide a 70-27 margin. The vote would constitute a veto-proof majority in the Senate — 67 votes would be needed to override a presidential veto — but House Democrats already demonstrated they have enough votes to sustain a veto when that chamber passed the measure last week.
Prior to Wednesday’s vote, though, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised either chamber would uphold a veto, reported the Hill.
“The president is going to veto this. Everyone knows this,” Reid said. “The House, if they are called upon first to sustain the veto, they will do it. If we’re called up on first to sustain the veto, we will do it.”
The White House’s objections to the legislation stem from its reliance on DOD’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) account to skirt the Budget Control Act spending caps. The bill would authorize the same amount the White House requested for national security spending, $612 billion. It leaves the discretionary budget caps in place, though, and authorizes only $496 billion for DOD’s discretionary base budget. (The measure authorizes additional sums for the Energy Department and mandatory spending by DOD.) To make up the shortfall, the measure 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 authorizes 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.
Republican leaders have blasted the White House’s threats to send the legislation back to Congress. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said a veto by the president would be “shameful.”
“If the president vetoes the NDAA, at this time of mounting global threats, he will be prioritizing politics and process over the security of our nation and the well-being of our armed forces,” McCain said.
Even some Democrats have questioned why Obama is taking a stand over the larger issue of raising the statutory spending caps in the defense authorization bill, which is separate from the annual appropriations bill needed to allocate funding to the Pentagon.
“To basically say you’ll veto over the [OCO] issue, when we have language in the bill that basically says we should fix the budget caps, I said, ‘I think you’re drawing the line in the battle at the wrong place,’” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said in describing a conversation with the White House. Kaine, who sits on Armed Services, voted in favor of the authorization bill Wednesday.
The text of the conference report and the joint explanatory statement, along with a House Armed Services Committee summary, are available on the House Rules Committee website.