House and Senate Republicans sent President Barack Obama a $612 billion defense policy bill on Tuesday, warning him not to veto it as part of a partisan fight over government spending.
House Speaker John Boehner noted that the annual bill is one of the few bipartisan measures in Congress that has readily become law 53 consecutive years. He urged Obama to pick a different way to make his point in the standoff over whether Congress should break through spending caps when it comes to defense, but adhere to them for domestic agencies.
Obama and his Democratic supporters say no. Republicans argue that the bill authorizes money for national security amid global threats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was "stunned" at Obama's veto threat and said there were enough votes in the Senate to override it. Both the House and Senate would have to override the veto, but if the House sustains Obama's veto, the Senate would not even vote.
The bill authorizes an increase in defense spending that Obama requested, but he doesn't like the way Congress did it. Lawmakers increased defense spending by padding a separate war-fighting account with an extra $38.3 billion. That account — for overseas contingency operations — is not subject to spending limits Congress imposed on itself a few years ago.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asked: "If you are a U.S. service member today ... do you really care what budget category your support and maintenance comes from? I don't think so. This is an inside Washington political game at the expense of our nation's security."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, ticked off a few of the hundreds of provisions in the bill that: provides $300 million to arm Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed rebels; identifies $11 million in waste and unnecessary spending; accelerates shipbuilding; modernizes an outdated military retirement system; reforms defense acquisition; and provides for better cyber defenses.
"If the president of the United States vetoes this bill, we can only reach one conclusion and that is that the president of the United States is more concerned about a budgetary issue in non-defense spending than he is about defending this nation," said McCain, a staunch critic of Obama's foreign policy.
The White House says Obama opposes the bill because it uses a "funding gimmick" to get around spending caps. Obama also is upset about provisions in the bill that would make it harder for him to transfer suspected terror detainees out of the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of his plan to close it before he leaves office.
Separately, 101 House Republicans have written a letter to Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, saying that "in this increasingly unstable world, it is clear that further reductions to national defense accounts are irresponsible."
In the letter, the Republicans said they are against a full-year spending bill to keep the government funded through next year at current levels. They said taking such action would deprive the U.S. military of roughly $41 billion required to meet basic readiness requirements and execute modernization programs needed to maintain an edge over adversaries.
Earlier in the day, McConnell expressed his concern about global threats in a meeting with reporters to discuss his trip last week to Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Afghanistan.
"Things have deteriorated in every place that we visited," McConnell said. "American prestige is certainly at a low ebb and there's a great deal of concern about Russia raising its profile" and apparently putting a coalition together in Syria with Iran and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
McConnell said, however, that he was pleased that the president had decided to maintain its current force of 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through most of 2016.
McConnell traveled to the region with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky.