WASHINGTON — The House voted Thursday to approve the 2016 defense policy bill and signed off on a $496 billion base budget and an $89 billion war account, all under the shadow of a White House veto threat.
The legislation proposes a $100 million cut for F-35 joint strike fighter procurement and bans the A-10 close-air support aircraft’s retirement, adds funding for F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and F-35B strike fighters for the Navy and Marine Corps, and adds $411 million for Army Stryker combat vehicle upgrades.
The final vote passed 270-156, with most Democrats voting against. That’s because House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith of Washington and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland came out against the measure, which included nearly $38 billion in additional funding for the Pentagon via the overseas contingency operations (OCO) wartime account.
The bill does not appropriate funding but sets policy, creating authorization to spend money on a wide range of acquisition programs across the services.
The bill also contains measures meant to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, ban torture, keep open the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, reform troop pay and benefits, overhaul acquisition rules and phase out the use of Russian rocket engines for US space launches.
Smith, Hoyer and President Barack Obama, who has issued a threat to veto the bill, are opposed because GOP leaders decided to inflate OCO funding — which is exempt from budget caps — but refused to also increase domestic spending. One day after the White House reaffirmed Obama's plans to veto the bill, Hoyer called it, “the Republican sneak-around strategy.”
Thirty-seven Democrats joined Republicans voting to pass the bill. Smith and Hoyer got 10 Republican "no" votes.
On the House floor Thursday, Smith sparred with HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas., who decried the Democratic opposition and the veto threat as “political games” and ill-advised as the nation faces pressing national security challenges from Russia and the Middle East.
“Unfortunately, we have the White House playing politics with national security, and that’s what makes finding a [budget] agreement harder,” Thornberry said.
Smith, however, said Republicans controlling the House and Senate have maintained budget caps, which he said was the greater danger to national security. He, as Democrats have argued, said the war account is not intended for base budget requirements and does not provide Pentagon planners with a stable funding source.
Despite his opposition, Smith said, “I agree with 95 percent of the bill.
“Take OCO out and put it in the base budget … and you will see Democrats vote for this,” he said.
Thornberry conceded that the funding measure was “not ideal, but it’s better to have the money than not.”