President Obama last week signed the new military spending bill after vetoing the original version.
Military installations in Nevada include Fallon Naval Air Station, Hawthorne Army Ammunition Depot, Groom Lake (which is actually a detached section of Edwards Air Force Base in California), Tonopah AFS, Creech AFB Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, and Nellis Air Force Base.
Nevada also has a considerable number of military retirees. It is one of nine states with no income tax, with the result that military retirees’ pensions are not taxed.
Obama vetoed the first version of the bill on Oct. 22. Unable to come up with the votes for an override, the two sides split the differences and passed a second version.
The veto message read in part, “Our defense strategy depends on investing every dollar where it will have the greatest effect. My administration’s proposals will accomplish this through critical reforms that divest unneeded force structure, slow growth in compensation, and reduce wasteful overhead. The restrictions in the bill would require the Department of Defense to retain unnecessary force structure and weapons systems that we cannot afford in today’s fiscal environment, contributing to a military that will be less capable of responding effectively to future challenges.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, the likely Republican U.S. Senate candidate in 2016, said of the veto, “Now is not the time to put domestic politics ahead of our national defense. We have men and women in uniform serving in every corner of the globe helping us achieve our national defense missions. This bill provides their pay and benefits and gives them the tools they need to keep the United States safe.”
Likely Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Catherine Cortez Masto’s press office did not respond to two requests for comment on the veto.
Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said, “My Democrats, our Democrats have stated without question if it comes time that we sustain a presidential veto, that will be done.”
The measure funded a pay raise for most troops, weapons and other hardware, military aid to Ukraine, and a subtitle devoted to countering Russian actions.
Heck is an army reserve brigadier general and a member of the House Armed Services Committee. His statement further said, “The NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] gives the President every defense dollar he asked for and yet he vetoed it to advance his domestic political agenda. That veto sends a signal that the Commander-in-Chief is not committed to the same mission in which our service members and allies are engaged. The world is too dangerous and our enemies too opportunistic to waver for one minute on approving the funding and authorities the NDAA provides. This veto is irresponsible and I will do my part to find the votes in the House to override it.”
The GOP was unable to muster the votes for an override, but Heck’s claim that the bill gave Obama “every defense dollar he asked for” glosses over the president’s reasons for vetoing. Obama’s concern was not how much was being appropriated, but the way it was being appropriated. He objected to the GOP’s use of an emergency war fund, the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, that shields Pentagon spending from the same budget limits as other military spending. Money sequestered in that fund is not subject to the spending caps created by the Budget Control Act of 2011. It effectively allows the GOP to increase military spending without limits while domestic spending remains limited by the Control Act.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee has called the OCO fund “nothing more than a Pentagon slush fund that allows the Pentagon to live beyond its means while evading the same sequestration caps that are crippling critical federal programs that support American families.”
Reid said he would stop all budget bills unless Republicans came to the table and negotiated on sequestration.
‘Defense’ dollars keep flowing
The level of military spending was not at issue—both Republicans and Democrats wanted it increased, raising the question of who in Congress speaks for those who want it reduced. Two Republican senators—Rand Paul and Ted Cruz—voted against the bill, joining 23 Democrats.
Newsweek observed, “This is one of those situations where you just have to hope that everyone loses. The good news is that Washington is so dysfunctional that even though the White House, Republicans and most Democrats all support repealing the limits on defense spending, it still might not happen.”
Obama did ask that the increase in spending in the bill be matched with equal spending increases in non-military programs. He objected to language in the original bill that restricted the executive’s ability to transfer Guantanamo prisoners and shut down the prison facility there.
In the end, instead of an override vote, a second bill was passed that sharply reduced funds sequestered in the suspect OCO fund, but the Guantanamo language was kept in place. Obama signed this version. The original bill put a whopping $89.2 billion in the fund, 14 percent of the bill’s total $612 billion expenditure. The second bill hid “only” $8 billion there. The overall size of the bill dropped from $612 billion to $599 billion.
Republicans tried to portray the veto as out of the ordinary, but in fact the annual military spending bill has been vetoed four times over the years, including by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. It was Obama’s fifth veto as president. They also tried to portray it as a case of Obama cutting off funding to U.S. troops, though that would not happen until next year, giving Congress plenty of time to either override or pass a new bill, the choice they took.
Cortez Masto’s silence on the issue plays into a portrait Republican operatives have been trying to paint of her as being unwilling to take positions. GOP news releases since she announced her candidacy have carried titles like this: “So … Has Anyone Heard From Catherine Cortez Masto?” “Catherine Cortez Masto Speaks, Runs Away From Her Own Words.” “Catherine Cortez Masto Ducks, Dodges …” “Rare Footage: Catherine Cortez Masto Speaks To Media.” “The Missing Candidate: Catherine Cortez Masto Officially In Hiding.”
Military personnel serving in Nevada number Army 91, Navy and Marine Corps 1,003, Air Force 6,627.
Another breakdown for Nevada: Active duty military 7,721, Reserve and National Guard 6,514.
The Senate cleared legislation that authorizes $599 billion for the Pentagon and defense-related programs for fiscal 2016, $5 billion less than both the president’s overall request and the original conference agreement. It provides $33 billion of the original $38 billion in added funds for defense, including $8 billion through the Overseas Contingency Operations account. The measure authorizes $715 million for Iraqi forces fighting the Islamic State, $406 million to train and equip Syrian opposition forces and $300 million for lethal weapons for Ukraine. It modifies the military retirement system, blocks the Pentagon from retiring the A-10 Warthog aircraft and authorizes $11 billion for the F-35 Fighter.