The South Lawn of the White House.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – A line item in a House bill proposing an increase in missile defense aid for Israel is significant news in Jerusalem, but represents merely a fraction of 1 percent of this year’s $583 billion omnibus US defense package, known formally in Washington as the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Obama administration roundly opposes for a host of reasons.
A version of the bill that passed through the House of Representatives last week prompted the Obama administration to issue a statement of policy – standard practice of any White House with respect to mega bills such as this – and included, for the first time, a line of objection to the proposed missile aid increase. A House subcommittee had earlier written into the bill a $455 million addition to the administration’s proposed budget, which would effectively quadruple the president’s request.
The objection has prompted speculation as to whether this unique move means President Barack Obama considers the addition a veto-worthy offense. But White House officials tell The Jerusalem Post
to look at the greater picture in which this single-line objection was framed.
The NDAA is one of the largest bills to pass through Congress each year, and funds the entire US Department of Defense. There is little to no chance that the president would veto such important legislation over a mere $455m. in Israeli missile defense – substantial aid for the program, to be sure, but only $100m. more than an increase Obama approved without question for fiscal 2016.
The White House’s statement of policy was seven pages long, and it is the totality of his concerns with the House version – not specifically his objection to its line on Israeli missile defense – that has prompted him to threaten a veto.
This House version, the statement said in its summary, “fails to provide our troops with the resources needed to keep our nation safe. At a time when ISIL continues to threaten the homeland and our allies, the bill does not fully fund wartime operations such as Inherent Resolve."
“Instead the bill would redirect $16b. of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds toward base budget programs that the Department of Defense (DOD) did not request, shortchanging funding for ongoing wartime operations midway through the year,” the statement continues. “Not only is this approach dangerous, but it is also wasteful."
"The bill would buy excess force structure without the money to sustain it, effectively creating a hollow force structure that would undermine DOD’s efforts to restore readiness.”
The document says the bill would serve to “unravel” a critical dollar-for-dollar balance of defense and non-defense funding increases agreed upon in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, “threatening future steps needed to reverse over $100b. of future sequestration cuts to DOD,” it reads. “By gambling with war-fighting 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.”
In all likelihood, the matters of significant concern for the administration to renegotiate will have to do with these larger national security priorities – and a significant increase in Israeli missile defense aid will remain in the bill, as a bipartisan consensus in Congress has succeeded in securing every year for the past decade.