White House Promises Veto of House Defense Spending Bill

September 11, 2023 by Dan McCue
White House Promises Veto of House Defense Spending Bill
The White House (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The White House minced no words on Monday in describing how it “strongly opposes” a proposed 2024 spending plan for the Defense Department that would gut the Inflation Reduction Act and other administration programs.

The bill, H.R. 4365, also known as the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, was introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and is expected to be taken up by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

In a statement from the White House Office of Management and Budget Monday afternoon, the Biden administration said it negotiated in good faith with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last spring on bipartisan legislation to avoid the nation’s first-ever default on its debts.

“This negotiation resulted in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and set spending levels for FYs 2024 and 2025,” the OMB said.  

“The agreement held spending for non-defense programs roughly flat with FY 2023 levels, a compromise that protected vital programs Americans rely on from draconian cuts House Republicans proposed,” the office said. 

The agreement also protected historic legislative accomplishments from the past two years, including the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the Honoring our PACT Act of 2022, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the bipartisan infrastructure law.

“House Republicans had an opportunity to engage in a productive, bipartisan appropriations process, but instead, with less than a month before the end of the fiscal year, are wasting time with partisan bills that cut domestic spending to levels well below the FRA agreement and endanger critical services for the American people,” the OMB said.  

“These levels would result in deep cuts to climate change and clean energy programs, essential nutrition services, law enforcement, consumer safety, education and health care,” it said, adding that the bill and companion legislation also headed to the Rules Committee includes billions in additional cuts to IRA and other Biden administration programs “that would result in unacceptable harm to energy and energy efficiency initiatives that lower energy costs and critical investments in rural America.”

“The draft bills also include numerous new, partisan policy provisions with devastating consequences including harming access to reproductive health care, threatening the health and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) Americans, endangering marriage equality, hindering critical climate change initiatives, and preventing the administration from promoting diversity, equity and inclusion,” the OMB said.

The White House goes on to say the bill proposed by the Republican-controlled House raises separation of powers concerns, including placing conditions on the president’s authority to take certain actions on receiving the approval of the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations.  

In addition, the OMB said, section 8123, which states that upon the bill’s passage “the United States Southern Command shall assume combatant command responsibility for activities related to Mexico,” would interfere with the president’s authority as commander-in-chief.

Two additional sections, 8124 and 8125, would restrict the president’s ability to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees.  

“The president has repeatedly objected to provisions such as these on the ground that restricting the transfer of detainees to the United States and to the custody or effective control of foreign countries or entities in the context of an ongoing armed conflict may interfere with the executive branch’s ability to determine the appropriate disposition of detainees and to make important foreign policy and national security determinations regarding whether and under what circumstances such transfers should occur,” the OMB said.

The administration also objects to sections 8149 and 8150, which it says would likely violate or raise serious concerns under the First Amendment.  

Section 8149 would curtail the administration’s ability to label “any communications” by a U.S. citizen as dis- or misinformation.

Further, it would restrict the administration’s ability to request that deliberate misinformation be removed from social media platforms.

Section 8150, meanwhile, would restrict the use of appropriated funds to “grant, renew or maintain a security clearance” for anyone who signed an Oct. 19, 2020, statement titled “Public Statement on the Hunter Biden Emails.”

On that date a group of 51 former senior intelligence officials, who had served in four different administrations, including the Trump administration, released an open letter stating that the release of the alleged emails “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

Other provisions of the legislation the White House objects to include those that:

  • Limit access to non-covered reproductive health care by servicemembers and their families, impede the ability of all servicemembers to serve to their fullest capacity, and undermine the United States’ ability to fight foreign adversary disinformation.  “Including divisive policy provisions within an appropriations bill dramatically increases the threat of a continuing resolution, which would further damage America’s national security,” the administration said.
  • Would prohibit the department from spending funds to support access to non-covered reproductive health care.
  • Would cut $715 million in funding from programs related to combating climate change, and would prohibit the use of funds for certain emissions and climate data for federal contract offers.  
  • Would reduce DoD civilian personnel funding by $1 billion, something the White House believes would degrade the department’s ability to execute its mission and operations, adversely impact readiness, and negatively affect civilian recruitment and retention.
  • Would cut $257 million from the defense department budget related to the “broader national initiative to increase domestic semiconductor research and development and expand cutting-edge domestic chip manufacturing.”
  • Finally, the administration said it strongly opposes section 8073 of the legislation, which would prohibit the decommissioning of certain naval vessels. “Divesting ships on a case-by-case basis allows the Navy to prioritize investments in modernization, readiness, and other areas to ensure our force structure remains capable and relevant to current and future challenges,” it said.

The OMB’s comment wasn’t all negative, however. It noted that the administration strongly supports the inclusion of a plan for multiyear procurement of critical munitions.

It also noted the administration supports the House’s desire to raise the pay of junior enlisted members of the military, but says the proposed plan for doing so would create more headaches than it solved and would also create “an unfunded requirement of several billion dollars.”  

“This would remove an important incentive for enlisted members to seek increased responsibilities and earn promotions at the grade of E-6 and higher, harming military readiness. Specifically, the committee bill provides $800 million in FY 2024 for this provision against a cost of $4.4 billion in FY 2024 and $23.4 billion over five years,” the White House said. 

The OMB closed by saying the administration “stands ready” to engage with the House and Senate “in a bipartisan appropriations process to enact responsible spending bills that fully fund federal agencies in a timely manner.”

Failing that, should H.R. 4365 reach his desk in its present form, the OMB said, the president would veto it.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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