The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto the defense authorization bill that the House Armed Services Committee passed last week, reeling out an eight-page list of objections to what Republicans had proposed.
The disputes included everything from provisions governing terror detainees to whether victims of the Little Rock and Fort Hood shooting should be eligible for Purple Hearts. (No, says the White House, because the law as written “could create appellate issues.”)
The memo from the Office of Management and Budget also tossed back a familiar bomb at House Republicans: It accused their bill of creating the very “hollow force” they and Pentagon witnesses have been warning about for months in their anti-sequestration revival sessions up on the Hill.
Here’s what it said:
The administration strongly objects to provisions that would restrict retirements of C-27J, C-23, C-130, and other aircraft and the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30. These provisions would force DOD to operate, sustain, and maintain aircraft that are in excess of national requirements and are not affordable in an austere budget environment. Retaining large numbers of under-resourced aircraft in the fleet in today’s fiscally constrained environment would significantly increase the risk of a hollow force.
The administration also objects to provisions that would restrict retirements of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and certain Ticonderoga class cruisers (CGs) and dock landing ships (LSDs). The requirement to maintain a minimum of 12 ballistic missile submarines in the fleet would limit the Secretary of the Navy’s ability to manage naval strategic forces to balance risk across the total naval battle force, and to ensure scarce resources are directed to the highest priorities of the combatant commanders. The requirement to retain CGs and LSDs without associated funding for manning, repair, maintenance, and modernization over the remainder of their service lives places the Navy at greater risk of hollowing out the fleet.
And here’s something else interesting in the very next section:
Finally, the administration objects to section 1076, which would prevent the retirement of the C-23 aircraft in FY 2013. As of January 27, 2012, when the Army transferred the mission to conduct time sensitive/mission critical cargo and personnel to the Air Force, the Army no longer has a mission for a fixed wing cargo aircraft. Delaying the divestment of the C-23 aircraft into FY 2016 and beyond would cost $343.5 million for modernization and service life extension on the aircraft. In the current constrained budget environment, a congressional requirement to maintain systems that are outside the scope of the nation’s security requirements is irresponsible.
That means the Army would lose even its old Sherpas and have to rely entirely on contractors or airmen for fixed-wing airlift support downrange. (Although, as you’ve read, the Army is really pleased with the Air Force C-27J Spartans that have been placed under its tactical control.)
OMB’s memo also opposes the bill language that would keep open the Army’s tank plant in Lima, Ohio; push for an East Coast missile defense site; and limit the planned drawdown over the coming years. Acting on a belief that drawdown will happen — a belief defense advocates in Congress do not share — it restates the administration’s view that Congress must necessarily reauthorize the Base Realignment And Closure process:
The administration strongly objects to section 2713, which would prohibit DOD from spending any funds to propose or plan for additional rounds of BRAC, and sections 2712, 2867, and 2868, which seek to freeze certain Air Force command structures, capabilities, and functions as they existed in 2011. Together, these sections appear to impinge on executive branch prerogatives to plan for contingencies or make other needed adjustments that would improve military effectiveness and efficiency. The administration is concerned that the House has not authorized additional BRAC rounds so that DOD may properly align the military’s infrastructure with the needs of our evolving force structure, which is critical to ensuring that limited resources are available for the highest priorities of the warfighter and the national security.
Congress and the White House may eventually be able to work out many of their important differences on the authorization act: Lawmakers have passed one for “50 consecutive years,” as HASC Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon said earlier this month, and OMB’s memo closed politely with the promise that it was “looking forward to working with Congress to address these and other concerns.”
For now, however, the process will stall after the full House passes the bill, which would evaporate in the Democratically controlled Senate. The authorization act might then be tossed onto the same burgeoning agenda that includes everything else, the one headlined: “To be dealt with after the election.”