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White House Warns Hill It Could Veto 2015 Defense Bill

May. 20, 2014 - 03:13PM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
One of the disputes the US administration has with the House Armed Services Committee's version of the National Defense Authorization Act is House resistance to retiring the aircraft carrier George Washington.
One of the disputes the US administration has with the House Armed Services Committee's version of the National Defense Authorization Act is House resistance to retiring the aircraft carrier George Washington. (MC3 Brian H. Abel/US Navy)
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WASHINGTON — The White House is warning Congress that if the final version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) too closely resembles what emerged from the House Armed Services Committee, aides would recommend a presidential veto.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) charged in a May 19 “statement of administration policy” that the HASC-passed bill “does not include meaningful compensation reforms and other cost saving measures, rejects many of the Department’s proposed force structure changes, and restricts DOD’s ability to manage its weapon systems and infrastructure.”

The changes that the House committees made to the budget submitted by the Pentagon in early March, changes that replaced funding cuts for many weapons systems the Pentagon wants to retire or scale back while restoring force structure reductions, would eliminate more than $50 billion in planned savings over the next five years, the administration contends, while forcing the DoD to rework its force structure and procurement strategy.

The House bill, which could hit the chamber floor as early as Tuesday evening, also handcuffs President Obama’s ability to conduct foreign policy, especially with regard to the continuing situation in Russia and Eastern Europe, the OMB said.

Some of the specific objections include the House’s insistence that the Air Force retain its fleet of A-10 attack aircraft, despite the service’s oft-stated desire to divest itself of the platform. The service says that the coming F-35 joint strike fighter will handle the close air support mission required by ground forces, and that retiring the A-10 will save over $4.2 billion through 2019.

Likewise, the administration objects to several provisions aimed at naval capabilities that “would restrict DOD from obligating or expending any FY 2015 funds for the retirement, preparation for retirement, inactivation, or storage of a cruiser or dock landing ship,” which the OMB charges is “unaffordable over the long term.”

Keeping the extra cruisers “would limit the Navy’s ability to implement a phased modernization program that would provide 11 modernized cruisers and three dock landing ships through the 2030s” the administration said.

The House’s demand that the Navy keep and modernize two cruisers in 2015 is also not an option, as it fails to provide the Navy the time to plan the upgrades and purchase needed equipment on time, according to the administration.

One contentious issue still being disputed is the dustup over the administration’s goal of retiring the aircraft carrier U.S.S. George Washington (CVN 73), as opposed to putting it through a long, expensive overhaul process. The White House continues to be unhappy with language in the bill that restricts overall defense spending until funds are obligated to overhaul the carrier.

OMB writes that “without assurance that sequestration will be addressed and that future budget levels will be sufficient to ensure that CVN 73 can be adequately operated, maintained, crewed, and sustained in a balanced force structure that includes 11 carriers and 10 air wings, it would be unwise to fund efforts [for the overhaul] in FY 2015, only to be forced to cancel it and inactivate CVN 73 in FY 2016 due to ongoing budget restrictions.”

Other sticking points outlined in the eight-page memo include administration protests over amendments to withhold 50 percent of the funding for procurement and research for the Special Operations Command until the secretary of defense provides Congress with an “assessment of the intelligence activities and programs of the SOF and USSOCOM.”

The administration said that it will provide such information, but that the funding holdup would disrupt critical innovation at the command.

The administration also objects to several sections of the bill that would impede DoD efforts to study and purchase alternative fuels; the Hill’s attempts to set conditions for the negotiations with Iran; and the attempt to curtail security cooperation — particularly on cleaning up nuclear sites in the Russian Federation — with Moscow as punishment for the annexation of Crimea.

In fact, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continued buildup on the eastern borders of Ukraine have thrown more than one wrinkle into the 2015 budget process, with several amendments aimed squarely at bolstering NATO defenses in Eastern Europe.

First, the House demanded that an Aegis Ashore missile defense system be deployed to Poland no later than 2016 — two years earlier than planned — and that a short-range air and missile defense capability deploy to Poland no later than the end of this year.

These deployments “would limit the ability of the United States to meet its worldwide operational missile defense requirements,” the administration charges. ■

Email: pmcleary@defensenews.com.

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