-The “pitch forks” come out again for the annual “Potomac two-step”
This article in the latest Legislative Insights Series for 2015, and takes a brief review of the Budget Control Act of 2011, Sequestration. National Defense Authorization Act, and the Overseas Contingency Operations OCO (or supplemental war fund).
US Constitution Mandate
Article 2, Section 3 of the US Constitution mandates the president “shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” This is straight forward as to the president’s duties but the president also has the veto power to not sign bills. According to the Congressional Research Service, “Presidential vetoes are a rejection of legislation approved by majorities in both houses of Congress. Vetoes and congressional efforts to override them are often the reason for, or a reflection of, conflict between Congress and the President,” When presented with legislation passed by both houses of Congress, the President may sign it into law within the 10-day period prescribed in the Constitution, let it become law without his signature, or issue a regular or “pocket” veto. All bills and joint resolutions, except those proposing amendments to the Constitution, require presentment to the President before they become law. Amendments to the Constitution, which require a two-thirds vote of approval in each chamber, are sent directly to the states for ratification.”
Historically, since the beginning of the American federal government in 1789, 35 of 43 Presidents have exercised their veto authority on a total of 2,550 occasions.-(does not include GW Bush or Barak Hussein Obama) Of that number, 1,484, or 58%, have been returned vetoes — that is, the rejected legislation was returned to the congressional house of origin, while it was in session, with a presidential message of explanation — and 1,066, or 42%, were pocket vetoed, or rejected while Congress was adjourned. Some 7.1%, or 106, of the 1,484 regular vetoes have been overridden by Congress. The following presidents used the veto for bills that authorized defense spending bills.— In 1978 Jimmy Carter, 1988 Ronald Reagan, 1995 Bill Clinton and 2007 George W. Bush. “In each case, the president objected to an actual provision in the bill, and each time Congress’s Armed Services committees were able to find a compromise that earned the presidential signature, “wrote Senators McCain and Thornberry on October 23, 2015. For the record, President F.D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, had 635 total vetoes, Grover Cleveland had 584 total vetoes, Harry Truman, a Democrat, had 250 total vetoes, and Eisenhower, a Republican, had 181 total vetoes. George Washington during his four terms (16yrs) had only two total vetoes.
Budget Control Act (BCA)- Sequestration
The 2014 (QDR) stated, “The Department of Defense is also facing a changing and equally uncertain fiscal environment. Beginning with the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations, the Department began absorbing significant impacts from the $487 billion, ten-year cut in spending due to caps instituted by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. The BCA also instituted a sequestration mechanism requiring cuts of about $50 billion annually. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 provided modest immediate relief from sequestration, but unless Congress acts, annual sequestration cuts are set to resume in FY2016. To protect the security interests of the United States most effectively while recognizing the fiscal imperative of deficit reduction, the President’s FY2015 Budget reduces projected defense budgets by about $113 billion over five years compared to levels requested in the FY2014 Budget…it does not accept sequestration levels thereafter, funding the Department at about $115 billion more than projected sequestration levels through 2019.”
National Defense Authorization Act – Fiscal Year 2016
As prepared by the Armed Serves Committee and its current chairman, John McCain, “The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016 is the primary way Congress meets its most important constitutional obligation to “provide for the common defense.” It advances the vital funding and authorities America’s military requires...The House Armed Services Committee met on Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 and passed H.R. 1735 out of the Committee, favorably to the full House of Representatives 60-2. The proposal authorizes $515 billion in spending for national defense and an additional $89.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations for a total of $604.2 billion. Excluding an additional $7.7 billion for activities outside the committee’s jurisdiction, the total funding for national defense is equivalent to the President’s total request for $611.9 billion in defense discretionary spending. As part of the Overseas Contingency Operations account, the proposal funds $38.3 billion in operation and maintenance activities in support of base budget requirements for national defense.”
DoD Discretionary Base Budget is 495.9 billion dollars and the Department of Energy discretionary base budget is 19.0 billion dollars or a total of $514.9 billion.-rounded to $515 billion.
Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)
“The proposal fully funds the President’s request of $50.9 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). In order to comply with the Budget Control Act, as well as sustain our national defense capabilities, the proposal includes an additional $38.3 billion for base requirements. These are specifically authorized, just as they were in the base budget. Examples of base requirements funded by OCO in this proposal include Airlift Operations, Combat Support Forces, Combat Communications, Training Support, Combatant Commanders Core Operations, Army Prepositioned Stocks, and Equipment Maintenance.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R., Ariz.) said in June 2015 that the OCO funds currently offered the only way to ensure the Defense Department is adequately funded. “I am as opposed to sequestration as anybody is,” Mr. McCain said that he worried that any amendment passed and lawmakers couldn’t reach a budget agreement, members of the military would suffer from having their funding curbed.
Defense Reform – Non Complimentary Visions
In the vision of Congress, defense reform as specified in the H.R. 1735 NDAA for 2016 appears to be a means for Congress to continue the war in Ukraine with training and lethal weapons ($200 million dollars); to promote the continual four year civil war in Syria and Iraq ($1.32 billion dollars)-“ ISIL: The Committee’s proposal reinforces the mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (OIR). Its proposal reauthorizes the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq. The Committee also supports authorizing the President’s request of $715 million for security assistance to Iraqi forces combatting ISIL. However, the Committee requires that 25% of the funds be provided directly to the Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni forces… The proposal authorizes $600 million to continue training and equipping the vetted moderate Syrian opposition forces, while expressing concern about defending those forces once they return to the fight in Syria. The Committee’s proposal also authorizes funds to enhance Jordanian border security and enhance Jordan’s military capabilities, and further increases oversight of overall command and control of OIR.
In the vision of Defense Secretary Carter, he wants the Congress to deliver these reforms; namely, “retiring older, less-capable or lower-priority systems. And it merely papers over the defense-funding shortfall caused by sequestration, transferring funds from the regular budget into the department’s war-funding accounts to evade the Budget Control Act’s limitations. This budget maneuver leaves the military with no reasonable basis for the long-term planning and investments needed to keep our forces modern and relevant.”
In the mind of President Obama who vetoed the Defense Spending Bill “because it fails to resolve spending caps known as sequestration, doesn’t include military reforms, and impedes his ability to close the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” According to the Committee on Armed Services, “…The status of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) is of great concern to the Committee. The Committee’s proposal reauthorizes the bipartisan prohibitions against transferring detainees to the United States and against building detention facilities in the United States. Since January of 2014, the Administration has transferred 33 detainees to third countries. The Committee has grave concerns about the circumstances of these transfers and the continued reengagement of former detainees. Further, there is little public disclosure about the facts surrounding detainee reengagement. This amplifies many Members’ concern that the President unlawfully transferred five senior Taliban terrorists from GTMO in violation of provisions in the FY14 NDAA requiring a 30-day advance congressional notification. Detainee transfers should occur only when U.S. security can be assured, and not to meet an arbitrary campaign promise. To that end, the Committee’s proposal rescinds the President’s authority to unilaterally transfer detainees and reverts to the stronger transfer policy established in the FY13 NDAA. Transfers may take place only when the Secretary of Defense can certify that the foreign country to which the detainee is being transferred will maintain control over the detainee and ensure the detainee cannot threaten the United States or reengage in terrorist activity. The Committee’s proposal also prohibits the transfer of detainees to combat zones, intended to address instances such as a recent transfer of detainees to Afghanistan, where U.S. Service members are still engaged in combat. Consistent with the past policy, the Committee’s proposal provides a national security waiver.
The Committee remains frustrated with the Administration’s lack of cooperation on the Committee’s investigation of the Taliban Five detainee transfer... Secretary Hagel committed to provide such documentation in a public hearing on June 11, 2014. Until such time as the redactions are lifted and the DOJ materials are provided, the Committee proposes to withhold 25% of the funding for the Office of the Secretary of Defense
The drawdown is projected to continue after October 1, 2015, with the fiscal 2016 spending request before Congress listing an objective end-strength for 2016 of 475,000 soldiers, which is well shy of the manning projections of 450,000 to 420,000 soldiers that may be necessary if mandatory spending cuts called sequestration continue to the end of the decade.
The U.S. draw downs in Iraq and Afghanistan should be the political trigger to build a new technology driven downsized U.S. Military. Congress and the White House are again focusing on the sequestration and the ongoing cuts in the Defense budget. According to the Department of Defense, the Middle East is no longer a military land-battle-space area and now the U.S. and NATO military are very slowly pivoting towards Asia and Africa to combat cyber threats driven by China and al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Africa. However, once you write a “global military script”; namely, -Russia is now the Soviet Union, there are good and bad Syrian/Iraq/Yemen/Afghanistan terrorist, and that the US military policy only supports good terrorist defense budgets that have become fantasy exercises. Further, in this current White House script, China is not a potential naval military threat to the shipping lanes in the South China Sea.
In April 2014, the first joint budget resolution was approved by Congress since 2009. The proposal, outlined deep cuts to eliminate deficits over the coming decade, passed in the US Senate 51-48. All 46 members of President Obama’s Democratic caucus voted no. The spending “glass ceiling” was already established in 2011 and referred to as sequestration and applies for both guns (military) and butter (domestic) spending. The leaders in the U.S. Congress have already created a “slush fund” or sometimes referred by Democrats as a “rainy day fund.” A $90 billion supplemental war fund was created that would not be subject to sequester. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Budget resolutions don’t need President Obama’s signature but only set overall spending levels for separate appropriations bills that Congress will send to the White House later in the Fall.” The White House, to maintain its form of the “the Potomac two step”, will write press releases to the Media Cartels that any increase in the “guns” and “butter” budget spending must be in equal increments. However, budget bills can be passed in both the Senate and the House with a simple majority vote, known as reconciliation. The same “Potomac dancers” are still in power. Mitch McConnell in the Senate and Paul Ryan in the House. (Congressman Ryan appointment as Speaker of the House will occur on October 29, 2015) Mr. McConnell pledged to avoid shutdowns and debt-limit brinkmanship in the fall of 2014. Again in 2015, McConnell used the same playbook to avoid the media created drama of a government shut-down.
If sequestration returns in 2016, the Army National Guard would continue drawing down further, to 315,000. Army Reserves would draw down to 185,000.” The Army will get new Blackhawks and the Army will sustain the Guard’s fleet of Light Utility Helicopters. The caveat continues that if sequestration returns in 2016, that scenario would change and cuts would come.
If sequestration-level cuts were re-imposed in 2016 and beyond, the Marines would have to shrink further to 175,000.
Even with sequestration, U.S. Defense budgets will be at a large budget baseline; namely, $521 billion in 2015, $523 billion in 2016, and $590 billion by 2017. The reality is that the future defense focus will be cyber security, big-data, Mission-focused ISR, Intel micro-satellites, UAS platforms, command and control networks, and cyber operations.
Defense Policy Bill
The defense policy bill would authorize military spending of $612 billion, including roughly $89 billion from a supplemental war fund called the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), that isn’t subject to sequestration. With the 2016 Presidential Election looming over the fog of Washington DC, the Democrats will adhere to their media narrative that they want more or equal increases in domestic social welfare, subsidies to battery cars, government funded labor union projects, and free health-care programs, while they appear to be committed to the increase of U.S. military operations around the globe. The White House Media Communications Director released that “The President has been very clear about the core principle that he will not support a budget that locks in sequestration, and he will not fix defense without fixing nondefense spending.” Of the 90 billion dollars in the “rainy day fund,” the Democrats what to take out $38 billion dollars and place it in their own controlled “rainy day fund”. Thus only $51 billion will remain in the OCO.
Considering that the U.S., under Secretary of State Clinton and Kerry, have covertly created the current world civil wars and crises and the 2 million migrants entering the EU, Senator McCain’s June 5, 2015 comments are to say the least “unbalanced.” McCain spoke, “It is simply incomprehensible that as America confronts the most diverse and complex array of crises around the world since the end of World War II, that a President would veto funding for our military to prove a political point.” According to Dow Jones, “Republicans have easily passed four spending bills so far in the House, but the full Senate has yet to vote on any of the 12 spending bills, which face higher hurdles there. Spending bills need 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate, where Republicans hold only 54 seats… some Republicans, who aren't eager to repeat the 2013 shutdown now that Congress is fully under GOP control.”
The same “Potomac 2-step dance” was executed in 2014; namely, “Republicans generally want to trim spending elsewhere in the budget or find savings by overhauling federal safety-net programs. Democrats have supported a combination of budget savings and new tax revenues.” Unfortunately, the American people and the war fighters are tired of the same political theater that Washington DC is well known for.
Veto of US Warfighters
President Obama vetoed the bill because of sequestration, exclusion of military reforms, and the power to close the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Closure of Guantanamo Bay was President Obama’s re-election campaign promises, as well as ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to NewsCorp, “Mr. Obama’s administration has complained that the bill adds extra money to a supplemental war fund, known as Overseas Contingency Operations, which isn’t subject to budget caps. The bill authorizes $89.2 billion in supplemental war funding, of which $38.3 billion would be for operation and maintenance at bases.”
Senator Angus King spoke that the veto “creates uncertainty in the military” and that he was “disappointed, but not disheartened, because I believe we can work together to resolve our disagreements.” Senator John McCain Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Representative Mac Thornberry the chairmen of the House Armed Services committees respectively, issued a joint Opinion, “Obama Vetoes His Own Military,” the president’s veto is “not only unprecedented, but it is reckless, cynical, and downright dangerous. “President Obama’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act is not only unprecedented, but it is reckless, cynical, and downright dangerous. Never before has an American president used the bill that provides pay and support to our troops and their families as political leverage for his domestic agenda. The American people, and most importantly, the men and women in uniform deployed to fight in dangerous war zones around the world, expect more from their Commander-in-Chief. At a time when crises around the world have never been greater, and when U.S. global leadership has never been weaker, this veto will only intensify the challenges we face while putting vital missions in danger.”
“The defense authorization bill authorizes exactly as much money as the President requested for national defense. It provides our troops the resources they need for complex missions, and delivers some of the most significant reforms to the Pentagon in more than 30 years. It makes important reforms that improve the benefits, management, and acquisition system in the Pentagon. It gives our service members new tools to battle ISIL and al Qaeda, and it provides the Ukrainians the lethal assistance they need to combat Russian aggression. This bill also includes a provision that would enable Congress to adjust the budget categories to match any subsequent budget agreement. The defense authorization bill is the product of bipartisan work, which broad majorities in both houses of Congress have overwhelmingly approved…”
“The House will hold an override vote on November 5th. As we prepare for that vote, we will continue to urge our colleagues to do what the President did not — put the best interests of our troops and of our country’s security ahead of politics.”
DoD Old Habits do not die so quickly
Ashton Carter, Secretary of Defense, has already cut over 40,000 U.S. Army troops to be returned to civilian life. “An additional 17,000 Army civilian employees would also be laid off under Obama’s plan. Under the plan, the Army would have 450,000 soldiers by the end of the 2017 budget year. During the peak of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army swelled to about 570,000 soldiers to ensure that deployments could be limited to one year. Automatic budget cuts known as sequestration would reduce the US Army by thousand more.”
Retired U.S. Army chief of staff General Odierno, published his comments on August 13, 2015, “current environment demands a modern and ready, globally engaged land force. To achieve this, in my view, the optimum size of the active-duty Army is 490,000 troops. But the fiscal gridlock surrounding the Budget Control Act of 2013, also known as sequestration, has already forced us to reduce Army forces to 450,000. If sequestration continues, we will be forced to reduce even further. At that point, the Army will be unable to fulfill its mission.”
On October 21, 2015 as reported, Carter wrote, “Without a negotiated budget solution to which everyone finally agrees, we will again return to sequestration-level funding, reducing discretionary spending to its lowest real level in a decade. Members of both parties agree that this will harm national security. The alternative to a budget deal, a long-term continuing resolution, is merely sequester-level funding under another name. And the longer a continuing resolution is, the worse it becomes. If Congress chooses to pursue this path for a full year, the Defense Department will be $38 billion short of the funding level the Joint Chiefs and I have determined is needed to restore the readiness of today’s force after more than a decade of war, while investing in vital new capabilities for the future.”
On October 23, 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that the US will increase raids in Iraq and Syria. The Administration spoke many times that “American troops would not participate in combat missions as they battle the extremists across Iraq and Syria.” This is not the case on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria. Marine General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said “it was time to begin to open the aperture in military operations there.” In a time of a defense budget veto, it appears quite unclear why the US Government is now expanding expensive special ops in Iraq and Syria when there appears to be zero contingency funds. As in Vietnam, local indigenous forces are trained to do the actual killing and lead the operation, with American forces providing airlift, airstrike support, intelligence and battlefield advice. In this 2015 case, it is the Kurds and in 1965 Vietnam it was the Montagnards. Ash Carter and Dunford appear to have forgotten the lessons of past wars.
Obama’s veto Against America’s Warfighters – What does it mean?
Many have criticized President Barak Hussein Obama for using his veto powers to cancel out the NDDA for 2016. Obama’s political Democrat Party advisors “criticized the decision by Republican lawmakers to base their $612 billion in defense budget authority around plans to use overseas contingency operations accounts to get around mandatory spending caps that Congress put in place, a move as a budget gimmick. Temporary War accounts to get around mandatory spending caps, Obama used this opportunity to give him an identity of a budgetary conservative going into the 2016 President campaigns of Democrats. Obama will interfere with soldier’s pay raise in January 2016. The White House wants to reform the Military Retirement Programs. Bonus and retirement are not going to be addressed. The defense authorization bill still affects things like enlistment bonuses, hazard pays, and other specialty compensation for which authorization must be renewed each year. If lawmakers has substituted their own pay raise or tried to supersede the presidential order in the bill, Obama's veto would have affected that, too.
These are few of the comments.
“Obama’s Democratic Party public relations team says he opposes the bill because it uses creative budget maneuvers to boost defense spending by $38 billion without increasing domestic spending. Obama wants higher spending for both. Obama also disapproves of provisions that would make it harder to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”
“Obama wants to state in his State of the Union Speech in January 2016 that he allowed all the murderers of American troops held in Guantanamo Bay can now be set free to return their birth nations. Marine base in Guantanamo Bay is now closed and given back to Fidel and Raul Castro. Further, that he ended the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syrian Wars. President Obama vetoes funding for our troops overseas & their families here at home — all for petty political gain. Shameful.”
John Boehner who embraced the policies of Obama, wrote, “Never before has a president held troop funding ransom for a domestic political agenda”
Representative Mac Thornberry wrote, “President Obama’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act is not only unprecedented, but it is reckless, cynical, and downright dangerous. Never before has an American president used the bill that provides pay and support to our troops and their families as political leverage for his domestic agenda. The American people, and most importantly, the men and women in uniform deployed to fight in dangerous war zones around the world, expect more from their Commander-in-Chief. At a time when crises around the world have never been greater, and when U.S. global leadership has never been weaker, this veto will only intensify the challenges we face while putting vital missions in danger. The defense authorization bill authorizes exactly as much money as the President requested for national defense. It provides our troops the resources they need for complex missions, and delivers some of the most significant reforms to the Pentagon in more than 30 years. It makes important reforms that improve the benefits, management, and acquisition system in the Pentagon. It gives our service members new tools to battle ISIL and al Qaeda, and it provides the Ukrainians the lethal assistance they need to combat Russian aggression. This bill also includes a provision that would enable Congress to adjust the budget categories to match any subsequent budget agreement. The defense authorization bill is the product of bipartisan work, which broad majorities in both houses of Congress have overwhelmingly approved.”
John McCain, war hero of Vietnam posted, “Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are performing vital missions to protect our nation. They want and need support. They do not care what budget category that support comes from. That is a Washington game. All they care about is that their mission is fully resourced. “The House will hold an override vote on November 5th. As we prepare for that vote, we will continue to urge our colleagues to do what the President did not — put the best interests of our troops and of our country’s security ahead of politics.”
Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., said the veto “will block a mediocre pay raise that the president already reduced,” adding “now they won’t even get his pathetic 1.3 percent raise.”
Conclusion – An empire of Debt
Congress currently breaks up the US budget into twelve large bills. American is now 19 trillion dollars in debt and with a debt ceiling of $18.1 trillion and increasing. Outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner revealed on October 23, 2015 that “the US Treasury Department has said that in order for it to continue paying bills on time, Congress must act by November 3, 2015 to increase the federal government’s current $18.1 trillion borrowing limit. Republicans have said that they will raise the debt limit only if other measures are passed to reduce federal spending. There has never been a majority in the House of Representative willing to shut down the government. President Obama fought with the Congress over funding for implementation of his unilateral amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, funding for DHS, and of course, the Affordable Care Act (which is no longer affordable for Americans). The “food fights” over the Defense Budget Bill is yet another example of how the members of government view the US Military and the American taxpayers. Perhaps, the answer is an “automatic CR or continuous resolutions, as suggested by Jim DeMint, President of the Heritage Foundation suggested in 2014. Certainly, the process of running the Federal government could be less confrontational.
Does the U.S. Treasury have to borrow from Communist China and then invest heavily in new hardware conventional technologies that may not outpace other countries military technologies? Russia has shown that it has mastered C5ISR in Syria. Do the U.S. covert agencies need to create pivot wars for democracy? The American electorate yearns for a foreign policy that will give a vision and clear path ahead. So far, the two political parties in the U.S. have not risen to the challenge.