On October 20, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin G. Hatch formally completed action on the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and sent it to President Obama. The president now has ten calendar days, excluding Sunday, to either veto or sign the bill.
The House agreed to the Conference Report by a vote of 270-156 – enough votes against the measure to sustain the president’s veto. The Senate, on the other hand, agreed to the Conference Report by a vote of 70-27. Nevertheless, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed that Democrats would be able to produce enough votes to uphold the veto if it comes to it, even though many Democrats voted to pass the report on October 7.
Here are ten reasons the president should veto the NDAA:
Bloated Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund
The NDAA Conference Report includes $38 billion over the president’s request for the Overseas Contingency Operations Account (OCO). The White House maintains the President will veto the bill to force a budget deal that rolls back the budget caps, imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, for both defense and non-defense spending.
The president’s budget request included $50.9 billion for OCO, blowing the caps on the base budget by around $34 billion. The Conference report maintains a base level within the caps, but simply takes a chunk of the base budget and shifts it into OCO. The NDAA abuses OCO as a slush fund, thereby avoiding tough budget choices.
Forces Guantanamo Bay prison to remain open
The NDAA prohibits the use of funds for the transfer or release of Gitmo detainees until at least 2017, which all but ensures that Obama will not close the prison during his tenure. Closing Guantanamo Bay is a legacy issue for the president. The prison is an emblem of U.S. human rights abuses — not to mention the exorbitant cost of keeping the facility running.
Bans new round of base closures (BRAC)
The Pentagon supports a new round of BRAC as a cost-saving measure; but Congress is reluctant to pass legislation that might hurt their constituents. Once again, the NDAA prohibits a new round of base closings.
Promotes wasteful missile defense provisions
The NDAA includes a slew of terrible missile defense provisions, including adding $30 million for an East Coast missile defense site the Pentagon does not want, and directing the Missile Defense Agency to chose a specific location 30 days after an environmental impact study is published. The Pentagon has made clear that it does not want, or have any need for, a third missile defense site. A third site could cost at least $3 billion. The bill also requires development and fielding of a boost phase missile defense system by 2022, launching research and development, and engineering evaluation for space-based missile defense, and the acceleration of the program to develop the Multiple-Object Kill Vehicle for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system.
Adds money for more F-35 planes when the system is still undergoing testing and evaluation
The F-35 program has been dubbed “the plane that ate the Pentagon” and with good reason: The Joint Strike Fighter is projected to be the world’s most expensive weapons system. It is way behind schedule, and has fundamental design flaws. Nevertheless, the authorization bill provides $1 billion over the president’s request for six F-35Bs, the Marine Corps variant.
Expands the off-budget account for new nuclear submarines
The NDAA expands transfer authority for the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund and authorizes the transfer of $1.39 billion for it. The account was created to alleviate the pressure on the Navy for the hugely expensive new ballistic missile submarine program. The fund in no way reduces the cost of the new nuclear submarines, but it does set a dangerous precedent for irresponsible budget practices at the Pentagon.
Limits reduction of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) alert status
That U.S. nuclear weapons are on high alert is a relic of the cold War. Former President George W. Bush stated during his presidency that the current alert posture is dangerous. It is also costly. Yet the defense authorization bill prohibits reducing the alert posture of the U.S. ICBM force.
Restricts nuclear weapons dismantlement
The NDAA Conference Report imposes limits on spending to dismantle retired nuclear weapons, and prohibits the use of any funds for dismantlement of any W-84 warheads. Storing, rather than dismantling, retired nuclear weapons leaves these weapons vulnerable to natural disasters, or theft. Limiting funds for dismantlement is putting political posturing over national security.
Full funding for mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility (MOX) boondoggle
MOX is a total boondoggle. The program was designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel for use in commercial nuclear reactors, as part of an agreement made in 2000 by Russia and the U.S to dispose of excess plutonium. But the U.S. plutonium disposition plan is floundering. The Department of Energy itself deems the program unaffordable, yet Congress continues to fully fund construction of this site.
Proclaims that the nuclear weapons triad is the highest priority mission of the Pentagon
The United States could spend up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years on modernizing and maintaining its nuclear arsenal. Frank Kendall, Undersecretary for Acquisitions at the Pentagon, has indicated the modernization plans would fail unless the Defense Department received an additional $10 to $12 billion annually by 2021. Yet modern day warfare is asymmetric in nature. Rebuilding our nuclear deterrent will not stop ISIL, prevent the next cyber attack, or stop China from building a military base in the South China Sea or Indian Ocean.