25 Oct 2015

President Obama’s decision to veto a $612 billion defense spending bill sets the stage for a fight that could force Congress to put an end to an era of fiscal mismanagement. It is a battle the president, who has vetoed only four other bills, may lose. But it’s one well worth fighting.

President Obama’s decision to veto a $612 billion defense spending bill sets the stage for a fight that could force Congress to put an end to an era of fiscal mismanagement. It is a battle the president, who has vetoed only four other bills, may lose. But it’s one well worth fighting.
Mr. Obama and Congress agree on the funding level for the Pentagon’s budget for the 2016 fiscal year. But the White House is rightly rejecting an irresponsible device lawmakers want to use to circumvent spending caps imposed by a deficit-reduction mechanism that has been in effect since 2013.
Both parties would like to bust through the caps, known as sequestration, but the president has insisted that spending on domestic programs be raised at the same time and that the process be open and free of gimmicks. Instead, to sidestep the caps, lawmakers added $38 billion to the defense budget by allocating the money to a war operations fund that is not subject to the spending ceiling. The budget line for Overseas Contingency Operations, which was created to support the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has become a slush fund that lawmakers routinely use to divert money for dubious initiatives in their home districts.
The bill also retains the unreasonable provisions that have stymied the administration’s plan to shut down the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, and includes new ones that are even more onerous. Under the bill, any new release from Guantánamo would require the secretary of defense to certify to Congress that the move is in the national interest of the United States and that the country the detainee is being transferred to has taken “appropriate steps” to prevent him from joining terrorist groups.
Ashton Carter, the secretary of defense, backs Mr. Obama’s veto. He has urged Congress to end an era of budgeting gridlock that is entering its seventh year. Among the consequences of this gridlock is that the Pentagon budget has depended on annual continuing resolutions instead of conventional appropriation bills, which has inhibited the Pentagon’s ability to make long-term strategic decisions and investments. 
“I hope it is possible for everybody to come together in Washington at long last, address all of the parts of the budget, not piece by piece,” Mr. Carter told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, arguing that the process takes a toll on military personnel. “This is a source of uncertainty for them and their families that I think is unworthy of them and what they’re doing for the country.”
Republicans in the House are trying to come up with the 17 or so votes they need to override the veto by Nov. 5. In the Senate, the Republicans may well have enough votes to override the veto. If they were to prevail, Congress would be delaying the prospect of reasonable, responsible budgeting for at least another year.

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