By Mike Martin
This year marked the eighth consecutive year in which President Obama has threatened to veto the annual defense budget legislation, which yet again differs greatly from the budget he proposed. That said, the President has only followed through with this threat once in the past 8 years, and because of this, it may come as no surprise that the Republican-led House voted to approve the new $610 billion defense bill. The bill, which passed by a vote of 277-147, will now need to be reconciled with the Senate’s version of the defense bill.
This all leads one to wonder, why exactly were House Republicans so adamant about passing this bill, and what has led the White House to be so against it? Here are few reasons.
Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)/Global War on Terrorism (GWOT): The legislation includes $58.6 billion in OCO/GWOT funding. This funding is to provide resources for preparation in the field to fight ongoing threats, funding for personnel and new vehicle requirements, and maintenance of facilities and equipment. As well as support to our key allies, such as Israel, Ukraine, and Jordan. In addition, $43 billion is included to sustain current troop levels in Afghanistan until April 2017 (rather than the drawdown requested by the White House).
Military Personnel and Pay: The legislation includes $132.6 billion to provide for 1,310,615 active-duty troops and 826,200 Guard and reserve troops. The bill denies the troop reductions proposed by the White House and adds 28,715 active forces and 25,000 selected reserve forces above the requested levels. The bill fully funds the authorized 2.1% pay raise for the military, instead of 1.6% as requested by the President.
Operation and Maintenance: Included in the legislation is $209.2 billion to support key readiness programs to prepare troops for combat and peacetime missions, including flight time and battle training, equipment and facility maintenance, and base operations. This is aimed to help rebuild the U.S. forces to ensure that troops have the training and equipment they need to sustain America’s military superiority.
Equipment Procurement: The legislation provides a total of $120.8 billion for equipment and upgrades. These funds support America’s military readiness by providing platforms, weapons, and other equipment for the military to train, maintain their force, and conduct successful operations. An example of one of these equipment upgrades is $21.6 billion to procure 15 Navy ships, including two DDG-51 guided missile destroyers and three Littoral Combat Ships.
Force Structure: The bill largely rejects the Administration’s proposed troop reductions. Instead, it provides increases above FY 2016. Additionally, the bill provides $374 million for 10 new Apache battalions in the Army National Guard, and $46 million to support the annual operating costs of the four battalions.
Savings and Reductions to the President’s Request: The bill also attempts to save American taxpayer dollars where possible, in areas that will not affect the safety or success of troops and missions. Some of these savings include: $1.5 billion from lower-than-expected fuel costs, $573 million due to favorable economic conditions, and $1.95 billion in savings from unused prior-year funding.
As you can see, a great deal of funding is being dedicated to enhance the strength of the U.S. armed forces. The Republican-led Congress has made it clear that they would like to reinforce and rebuild the strength of the military, instead of making cuts as seen in the President’s proposed budget. This divergence of budgetary priorities owes to differences in the policies that shaped these two budgets. And these differences have been the reason for the veto threat and have led the White House to claim: “The bill risks the safety of our men and women fighting to keep America safe, undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles our allies, and emboldens our enemies.”
The reconciliation process with the Senate bill will undoubtedly lead to changes in the budget, but the question remains whether the change will be enough to make the President rescind his veto threat. The drastic change that the President would seemingly prefer is very doubtful, and because of this, all roads point to an interesting battle over the defense budget between Congress and the President this summer.
Michael Martin is a Juris Doctor candidate at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. He is also pursuing a specialization in cyber and homeland security through Maryland’s new cyber-security certificate program, and he is pursuing a career in the field of homeland security.