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White House issues veto threat of defense funding bill

Objections include 1.8 percent military pay increase; adminstration says added cost would cut into readiness

Jul. 22, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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A veto of a $512.5 billion defense funding bill was threatened Monday by the White House budget office, not so much because of complaints about the level of defense spending but because the Obama administration doesn’t want military spending to rob money from other federal programs.

Additionally, the White House complains the House version of the 2014 defense appropriations bill is too generous with military pay, not generous enough with pay for federal civilian workers, and doesn’t include administration-proposed cost-cutting measures such as base closing and raising Tricare health fees for military retirees.

The veto threat, one of a similar series issued by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget about appropriations bills moving through the House of Representatives, came Monday in regards HR 2397, covering defense spending for the fiscal years that begins Oct 1.

“Unless this bill passes the Congress in the context of an overall budget framework that supports our recovery and enables sufficient investments in education, infrastructure, innovation and national security for our economy to compete in the future, the president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto HR 2397 and any other legislation that implements the House Republican Budget framework,” the OMB letter says.

The House bill, scheduled to be debated and passed this week, represents reduction of about $5.1 billion less than the pre-sequester defense budget for 2013 and is about $3.4 billion less than the Obama administration’s request. When sequestration is taken into account, the proposed budget is $28.1 billion more than current spending, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

Also included in the bill is $85.8 billion for war-related contingency funds.

Passage of the bill is not certain as House Republican leaders grapple with a pile of controversial amendments related to U.S. military policy on Syria, treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and attempts to prevent civilian furloughs in the event of another round of government-wide sequestration in 2014 if no budget agreement is reached.

The House and Senate each passed budget and deficit proposals about three months ago, but negotiations on a compromise have stalled because of attempts to set preconditions on talks. The veto threat issued by the White House is aimed at spurring those talks, saying an agreement on spending and tackling the deficit should be completed before passing specific agency funding bills.

On pay for the military, the White House policy statement objects to — but does not threaten a veto over — inclusion of money for a 1.8 percent military raise rather than the 1 percent raise requested by the White House. A 1.8 percent increase would keep pace the the average increase last year in private sector salaries, while the 1 percent raise would create a slight gap.

A 1 percent raise is “consistent with the views of the uniformed military leadership,” the White House statement says, noting that troops also will get an average 4.2 percent increase in housing allowances and 3.4 percent increase in subsistence allowances, under the Pentagon budget. The difference between the 1 percent and 1.8 percent raises is about $580 million in 2014 and $3.5 billion over five years, the statement says, warning that costs of the bigger raise “would need to be offset by deeper reductions to troop levels, readiness and modernization accounts at a time when statutory spending caps require defense reductions.”

For federal civilians, however, the White House objects to a proposed pay freeze, urging Congress to also give them a 1 percent raise on Jan. 1, 2014. “As the president stated in his fiscal years 2014 budget, a permanent pay freeze is neither sustainable nor desirable.”

Federal civilian pay scales have been frozen for three consecutive years.

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