WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry on Tuesday downplayed a White House veto threat of defense legislation that proposes to increase military spending.
The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto any legislation passed by the GOP-controlled Congress that ups military spending but leaves in place domestic spending caps.
"He's threatened to veto our bill pretty much every year at some stage in the process," Thornberry, R-Texas, told reporters Tuesday. "What we authorized and what he requested are exactly the same."
Thornberry was referring to President Barack Obama's overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund, which was inflated by GOP leaders from $50.9 billion to $89 billion to appease defense hawks.
"My focus is on matching the lowest ragged edge" of what Pentagon officials say is needed to defend the country," he added, "and we've done that."
So far, no member has filed an amendment that could be considered on the floor this week as part of the House's work on Thornberry's panel's 2016 national defense authorization act (NDAA) that would shrink the war fund.
But that doesn't mean one won't emerge before the legislation is called up, perhaps as soon as Wednesday evening.
"I'm sure there are a variety of people on all sides that will be looking to make some political hay out of a bill that is of this nature," Thornberry said. "We're going to let the House work its will this week."
Thornberry acknowledged some other members worry the inflated war fund essentially will be "a big pot of money that [DoD officials] can just do with what they want."
"The answer is, 'No'," the HASC chairman said. "Because we authorized program-by-program in the OCO, including the part the president requested as OCO and then the OCO to meet base requirements.
"None of that is a big pot of money, all of it is authorized program-by-program — just like we do the base budget," he said.
Adding the nearly $40 billion to the war fund is even opposed by senior Pentagon officials, but Thornberry described it as the lone way lawmakers could find to get the military more money because of spending caps in place since 2011.
But even if both the 2016 NDAA and defense appropriations bill include an $89 billion war fund, there's no guarantee Obama will sign them.
Office of Management and Budget Chief Shaun Donovan, during a recent television interview, implied that Obama will veto bills with more money for defense programs but not domestic programs when annual spending bills begin hitting his desk in a few months.
"The president has been very clear. He's drawn two red lines," Donovan said. "He is not going to accept a budget that puts sequestration in place that locks it in, and he's not going to accept a bill that fixes defense without bills that also fix the non-defense part of the budget."