President Barack Obama vetoed the defense spending bill Wednesday as a rebuke to Republicans who wants to ensure the military remains fully funded as Congress enters a period of uncertainty involving other budget issues.
With the upcoming debt ceiling approaching and appropriations for the U.S. government ending in December, Republicans sent a $612 billion defense policy bill aimed at avoiding problems related to the strict spending caps implemented years ago under a process call sequestration.
Obama, during an Oval Office ceremony vetoing the bill, gave high marks for the bill in ensuring the military remains funded and that improvements on military retirement and cybersecurity were implemented, but decried Republicans for trying to use “gimmicks” and halting other changes to security threats the president wanted.
“Unfortunately, it falls woefully short,” Obama said during the ceremony. “I’m going to be sending it back to Congress, and my message to them is very simple: Let’s do this right.”
With Republicans facing their own problems in the House, the party in control of the legislative branch vowed to override the veto.
This marked just the fifth veto by Obama, the fewest since Warren Harding in the early 20th Century, and a sign that the president is not willing to lay down for his spending desires.
Congress passed the sequestration bill four years ago, capping spending for all programs and agencies at the federal level. But Congressional Republicans are wanting to add $38.3 billion over that limit through a wartime operations account, which is immune to the law. The White House has stated any increase to defense spending must be paired with an increase in domestic program allocations.
The president also said he has problems with how the bill he vetoed handcuffs his ability to transfer terrorist suspects from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a campaign promise from 2008. There was also concern over the provisions that halt base closures and funding equipment even the Defense Department says it no longer needs.
In a rare display of unity, Republicans exploded in anger at the president. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) blasted the veto as “misguided, cynical and downright dangerous.” Other party leaders, as well as veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, accused Obama of putting politics before the troops.
Speaker John Boehner, who will likely retire in a week, said that “Congress should not allow this veto to stand.” The veto means Congress will have to have two-thirds of its members in both chambers agree to the bill again, something that will require the help of Democrats sympathetic to the defense bill and who face tough reelections next year.
Both Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have said there are enough Democrats willing to sustain the veto.