WSJ: Editorial: Obama Takes the Military Hostage
He’ll veto a bipartisan defense bill to coerce more domestic spending.
Wall Street Journal
President Obama is determined to end his second term in another blaze of spending glory, and toward that end he’s taking the U.S. military hostage. That’s the way to understand his threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act.
The House and Senate recently passed this annual bill with significant bipartisan majorities and they’ll send it to Mr. Obama as early as Tuesday. The NDAA is a policy bill that contains major military reforms and authorizes $612 billion in national defense spending, though that money would have to be appropriated separately.
The bill matches Mr. Obama’s budget request for an increase of $38 billion above federal budget caps for military spending. The NDAA does this by allocating the money through an Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, which isn’t subject to the budget caps. The President calls this a budget gimmick, which it is, but that hasn’t stopped Mr. Obama from requesting his own OCO funds when it suits. The point is that this is $38 billion Mr. Obama requested, and that the military needs.
The President’s real goal is to force Republicans to break the caps on non-military domestic spending. His veto threat explains he will not “fix defense without fixing non-defense spending.” So he admits that he’s willing to squeeze a military that is fighting the likes of Islamic State unless he gets more for Head Start, “job training and employment services” and welfare programs.
This intransigence risks derailing vital Pentagon reforms. The NDAA includes Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain’s sweeping overhaul of Defense’s bloated and sluggish acquisition process. The reforms would give the four heads of the armed services more control over their weapons programs—an idea pushed by former Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno. It would give the Pentagon new tools to speed weapons from development to the battlefield, and allow specific units, such as Cyber Command, to roll out technology with fewer bureaucratic roadblocks.
It would also allow Defense to purchase commercial items (say, laptops) from nondefense contractors like Apple, and encourage Silicon Valley to do more to meet U.S. defense needs. The goal is to promote more competition in defense contracting.
The NDAA also contains a historic revamp of military retirement. The Pentagon currently has an all-or-nothing program in which troops qualify for retirement benefits only after 20 years of service. Some 83% of those who serve receive nothing for retirement. The NDAA creates a new 401(k)-style plan that would provide even troops who serve as little as two years with some retirement savings. The program would provide an automatic payout of 1% of base pay, and matching federal funds up to 5% for individual contributions.
The bill contains other important provisions, including funds to provide military aide to Ukraine in its defense against Russian separatists, new money for ballistic missile defense, and a military pay raise.
On the rare occasions—four times—that a President has vetoed a defense authorization bill, he did so over a specific policy dispute. In 1988 Ronald Reagan vetoed a bill that slashed missile-defense funding. George W. Bush vetoed the NDAA in 2007 over a provision allowing plaintiffs lawyers to freeze Iraqi assets in U.S. banks for use in lawsuits brought by the victims of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush argued those assets would be vital to Iraq’s ability to rebuild. Congress struck those provisions and returned the bills for signature.
The NDAA has passed for 53 years in a row, making it a rare display of bipartisanship. It passed the Senate this year with 70 votes, including 21 Democrats, and the House with 270 votes, including 37 Democrats. But under pressure from the White House, many of those Democrats may switch to sustain a veto.
It’s hard to find a worse example of Washington dysfunction than a Commander in Chief, backed by fellow Democrats, who is willing to punish the military so he can break the little fiscal discipline that Congress has