Congress and the White House appear headed for a collision. The White House this week threatened to veto a defense bill if it includes military spending that Defense Secretary Gates outlined as wasteful and unnecessary. The House passed the $680 billion bill with those provisions Thursday, by a vote of 389-22.
Specifically, President Obama opposes the inclusion of $369 million in the bill for more F-22 fighter jets and $603 million for development and procurement of the alternative engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program.
If the final bill presented to the president contains either of those provision, a White House statement released Wednesday threatened, "the president's senior advisors would recommend a veto."
In that statement on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, the White House said it "has serious concerns with a number of provisions that could constrain the ability of the Armed Forces to carry out their missions, that depart from Secretary Gates' decisions reflected in the president's Fiscal Year 2010 Budget which carefully balanced fiscal constraints, program performance, strategic needs and capabilities, or that raise other issues."
The White House also expressed objections to other provisions in the bill restricting aircraft retirements and limiting U.S. engagements with NATO and European allies regarding missile defense programs, as well as other provisions, but none of them were objectionable enough to merit a veto threat.
"I think the president has outlined projects, as well as the Secretary of Defense, that he believes are not necessary spending." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday. "And we issued yesterday a statement of administration policy that said if the projects that the Secretary of Defense had outlined to the President were included in appropriations bills, then, upon the advice of the Secretary and senior advisors in the White House, those bills would be sent back, as I think (Office of Management and Budget director) Peter Orszag testified today."
"The president will veto bills that don't meet his standards," Orszag told Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., Thursday.
The veto threat didn’t seem to have much impact on the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who voted 13-11 in favor of more F-22s. The committee also voted to support the other provision that President Obama said could invoke a veto — an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“It is regrettable that the administration needs to issue a veto threat for funding intended to meet a real national security requirement that has been consistently confirmed by our uniformed military leaders,” F-22 proponent Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said Thursday.
This is not Mr. Obama's first veto threat.
In January, before he even had been sworn in as president, he told Democrats on Capitol Hill that he would veto any bill blocking the release of the second $350 billion for the troubled asset relief program to help stabilize the financial sector.
UPDATE: Luis Martinez reports that Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman today said, “The position of the Department remains the same. We believe that we should bring the F-22 program to its completion, as has been the plan for some time. With respect to the alternate engine our position’s pretty clear too. So, yes, both of these provisions coming out of the Senate are things that we would fundamentally disagree with.”
Would Defense Secretary Gates recommend a veto?
“When it comes to these programs, certainly," Whitman said.
Last week, Gates characterized the House inclusion of F-22 funding as a “big problem.” Does he remain opposed?
“He’s made his position very clear and it has not changed," Whitman said.