ABC News’ Sunlen Miller and Karen Travers report:
This afternoon at the White House, President Obama signed into law the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act and said the bill reaffirms the nation’s commitment to the men and women in uniform and brings change to Washington.
“I have often said that meeting our greatest challenges would require not only changing policies in Washington, but changing the way business is done in Washington, that it would require a government that's more efficient and effective and less influenced by lobbyists and parochial politics,” the president said in during an East Room ceremony. “And I'm pleased to say that, when it comes to the defense bill I'm about to sign into law, we've taken some important steps towards that goal.”
The president only briefly referenced the federal hate crimes provision that is contained in the spending bill.
The legislation authorizes $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and strips money from the Pentagon budget for the controversial F-22 Raptor. The Pentagon and White House pushed strongly to stop production of the costly aircraft but were met with resistance from members of Congress who said their states would suffer job losses if the funding was cut.
Today Mr. Obama touted that specific cut. “No longer will we be spending nearly $2 billion to buy more F-22 fighter jets that the Pentagon says they don't need,” he said.
Mr. Obama said that wasteful spending projects are “unacceptable at any time,” but with the nation fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, “it's inexcusable. It's unconscionable.”
“It's an affront to the American people and to our troops, and it has to stop,” he said.
The President said that by signing this legislation today, it proves wrong the critics who said that cutting wasteful projects was impossible because the administration would be “steamrolled” by special interests.
“So I think it's important to note today we have proven them wrong,” Mr. Obama said. “Today, we're putting an end to some wasteful projects that lawmakers have tried to kill for years.”
The president acknowledged that the bill is not perfect, or free of waste, but said it is an important first step.
“There's still more waste we need to cut. There is still more fights that we need to win. Changing the culture in Washington will take time and sustained effort,” Mr. Obama said, “So today I'm pleased to say that we have proved that change is possible. It may not come quickly or all at once, but if you push hard enough, it does come eventually.”
The President praised Secretary of Defense Gates for understanding that the defense budget “isn’t about politics” and who “took the fight to Congress.” He also praised Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who stood with him in his efforts at reform, “even though it probably occasional caused some heart bur inside of the Pentagon.”
“I have always rejected the notion that we have to waste billions of dollars of taxpayer money to keep this nation secure,” the President said, “In fact, I think that wasting these dollars makes us less secure. And that's why we have passed a defense bill that eliminates some of the waste and inefficiency in our defense process, reforms that will better protect our nation, better protect our troops, and save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.”
Mr. Obama only briefly mentioned the hate crimes provision within the act. The long-sought Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act is included in the bill. It will extend federal hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by a victim's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
“After more than a decade of opposition and delay, we've passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray, or who they are,” the president said.
Shepard’s mother was in the audience and Obama noted that he “promised” her that this day would come.
The President will make more formal remarks on the hate crimes provision at a reception in the East Room this evening.
-Sunlen Miller and Karen Travers