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Veto Threatened Over Building Bigger Army

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The White House is threatening to veto the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act for a budgetary gimmick used to reverse Army troop cuts.

The House version of the annual defense policy bill diverts money from the off-budget overseas contingency account to cover costs of increasing the number of soldiers in the Regular Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve. A May 16 statement of administration policy from the White House’s Office of Management says the result of this shift is a bill that “fails to provide our troops with the resources they need to keep our nation safe.”

“Instead of fully funding wartime operations such as Inherent Resolve to defeat ISIL, the bill would redirect $18 billion of overseas contingency operation funds toward base budget programs that the Department of Defense did not request, cutting off critical funding for wartime operations after April 30, 2017,” the statement says. “Not only is this approach dangerous, but it is also wasteful.”

In total, the House defense bill diverts about $18 billion in contingency funds to non-war spending, with about $2 billion allocated to Army personnel to cover the cost of not just stopping the drawdown, but restoring some previously ordered troop cuts.

“The bill would buy excess force structure without the money to sustain it, effectively creating hollow force structure that would undermine DOD's efforts to restore readiness,” the statement says. “By gambling with warfighting funds, the bill risks the safety of our men and women fighting to keep America safe, undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles our allies, and emboldens our enemies.”

The White House veto threat is unlikely to deter the Republican-controlled House from passing the defense bill with the contingency fund diversion intact. However, the shift in funds is far from final. The Senate version of the authorization bill continues to reduce the number of Army soldiers, as previously scheduled, because of a decision by the Senate Armed Services Committee to not use war-related contingency funds to pay for strength increases. A final defense bill won’t become law until the House, Senate and White House can agree.

The White House policy letter says increases in Army and Marine Corps troop levels included in the House bill add “unnecessary end strength in the manner proposed in the bill would invite a significant, unacceptable risk of creating a future hollow force, in which force structure exists, but the resources to make it ready do not follow."