CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS – DEFENSE
Updated May 24, 2011 – 9:29 p.m.
Veto Threats Set Up Showdown With House GOP Over Defense Policy
By John M. Donnelly and Eugene Mulero, CQ Staff
As the House opened debate on this year’s defense authorization bill Tuesday, the White House issued a lengthy set of objections to the measure, threatening to veto it over provisions related to terrorism and detainees, nuclear weapons and F-35 engines.
The Office of Management and Budget expressed “serious concerns” about several provisions, leading with those three, in a strongly worded Statement of Administration Policy on the fiscal 2012 bill (
The veto threats are likely to heighten the tension as the full House begins voting Wednesday on as many as 152 amendments to the $690 billion measure, many of them relating to controversial topics such as terrorism detainees, the military operations in Afghanistan and Libya and missile defense.
Indeed, the White House threats ensure that terrorism and detention policy will be front and center in the House debate, as well as when the bill reaches the Senate.
The administration threatened to veto the measure over several provisions that pertain to detaining and prosecuting alleged terrorists and “challenge critical executive branch authority.” These include a revision of the authorization to use military force in response the 2001 terrorist attacks (PL 107-40), which provided implicit congressional support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The language has been criticized by some groups as constituting a nearly boundless authority to conduct military operations.
House Republicans quickly blasted the White House threat, noting that the bill’s language echoed the Obama administration’s own justifications. The House will vote on a bipartisan amendment offered by six lawmakers to strip the authorization language.
“In issuing its veto threat, the White House might have actually undermined future legal efforts by attacking the same language that the administration has used in court filings to support its own policy,” Josh Holly, a spokesman for the Armed Services Committee, said in a written statement.
Also of concern to the White House is a limitation on where detainees can be transferred and another that would bar the use of civilian courts for prosecuting detainees. “It unnecessarily constrains our nation’s counterterrorism efforts and would undermine our national security particularly where our federal courts are the best — or even the only — option for incapacitating dangerous terrorists,” the White House said of the bill.
Secondly, the White House threatened to veto any bill that included provisions that would “impinge on the president’s authority to implement the New START treaty and set U.S. nuclear weapons policy.” At issue are sections of the bill that would require the completion and operation of new nuclear weapons facilities prior to dismantling weapons that the administration said are not needed. The administration added that the bill raises “constitutional concerns,” because it “appears to encroach on the president’s authority as commander in chief to set nuclear employment policy — a right exercised by every president in the nuclear age from both parties.”
Alternative Engine Saga
The White House also issued a veto threat over a second type of engine for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, saying it would reject any bill that funds or would force the continuation of the program. General Electric Co. would like to finish developing a propulsion system to compete with the base engine made by Pratt & Whitney, for inclusion in some of the more than 2,400 F-35s to be built over the next few decades.
Last month, for the first time in 16 years, Congress decided not to fund the GE program, and the Pentagon subsequently killed it. But the House Armed Services Committee included provisions in the defense policy bill intended to keep the GE program alive without authorizing government funding.
Veto Threats Set Up Showdown With House GOP Over Defense Policy
The provision most objectionable to the White House would effectively require the Pentagon to revive the GE engine if officials have to spend money on certain improvements to the Pratt & Whitney engine. The Obama administration conceded “some improvements are likely” in the Pratt & Whitney engines, meaning restarting the GE program would also be likely.
“If the final bill presented to the president includes funding or a legislative direction to continue an extra engine program, the president’s senior advisers would recommend a veto,” the OMB statement said. But the statement stops just short of saying the administration would reject the provision as currently written.
Beyond the veto threats, the administration had a lengthy list of other objections. These include a provision that would revise — and potentially delay or even derail — the process for implementing a repeal (PL 111-391) of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law (PL 103-160) on gays in the military by increasing the number of officials who have to certify that implementation would not be harmful.
Votes on Amendments
In the meantime, the debate on the House floor — which is expected to last into Thursday and perhaps beyond — likely will be lively and partisan.
While lawmakers proposed half a dozen amendments related to the Afghanistan war, only one major amendment will receive a vote on the House floor. That provision, offered by Democrat
Calls for withdrawal from Afghanistan have grown somewhat louder since U.S. forces killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, but House Republicans blocked debate on amendments that would have forced an early withdrawal.
“This is a fundamental policy question for this nation. What are we doing in Afghanistan? How best can we protect this nation?” said California Democrat
The House Rules panel also chose not to allow a vote on an amendment by Republican
The House will address disputes over U.S. participation in NATO-led military operations against the Libyan regime. One amendment from
Some lawmakers have objected to the U.S. role, complaining that the operation is being conducted in violation of the 1973 War Powers Act (PL 93-148). One provision that will receive a vote, from
An amendment from
Melissa Attias, Alexander C. Hart and Frank Oliveri contributed to this story.
First posted May 24, 2011 4:42 p.m.