CAPITOL HILL —
Ignoring a veto threat from the White House, the Republican-led Congress has authorized U.S. military programs and activities for the coming year, while temporarily sparing the Pentagon from the effects of automatic spending cuts.
By a vote of 70 to 27 the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act Wednesday, days after the House of Representatives approved the measure that lays out how much the Defense Department can spend and to what ends.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called the NDAA “a win for our forces and a win for our country at a time of seemingly incalculable global crises.”
The legislation drew criticism from Democrats, including President Barack Obama, for siphoning funds from the military’s emergency contingency account in order to offset across-the-board cuts designed to shrink America’s fiscal imbalances.
The Senate’s Democratic leader, Harry Reid, decried the accounting tactic as “a gimmick” and “funny-money funding,” adding it “does nothing to support the security we need at home.”
“Everyone knows the president is going to veto this,” Reid added.
Reid’s comments underscore a larger spending battle being waged on Capitol Hill. Republicans want to exempt the Pentagon from so-called sequester cuts while maintaining austerity in other federal agencies and programs. Democrats insist domestic priorities be included in any effort to undo the sequester.
“We [Democrats] are concerned about non-defense stuff,” Reid said last week. “We're concerned about the FBI, the federal court system. We’re concerned about our forests that are burning down. We’re concerned about money to build our highways. And rightfully so.”
A presidential veto of the NDAA would come one week after Congress narrowly avoided a partial government shutdown by extending federal spending authority for 10 weeks. During that time, talks are expected between the White House and congressional leaders on total government expenditures for the coming year and beyond.
By blocking a temporary “fix” of the military sequester, Democrats believe they will maintain leverage for a larger budget deal that includes austerity relief for domestic programs.
Republicans accuse Democrats of playing a dangerous partisan game with national security.
“This bill contains the funding authorization that the president asked for,” said McConnell, adding that vetoing the NDAA “will be the latest sorry chapter in a failed foreign policy based on campaign promises rather than realistically meeting the threats before us.”
Obama has 10 days to sign or veto the bill.