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COLUMN: In Dangerous Times, No Time to Play Politics with National Defense

October 26, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” With those words, the preamble of our Constitution, the supreme law of the land, illustrates one of the preeminent responsibilities of the federal government: to secure our national defense. The federal government has a duty to support our men and women in uniform and their families at a time when many are risking their lives overseas to defend us here at home. Neither our national defense nor the members of our military should be pawns to be played for domestic political advantage, but with the President’s veto of bipartisan defense legislation last week, that is exactly what has happened.

In a time of growing threats, it is critical to support efforts to counter current threats to U.S. security interests. These include the mission to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), addressing growing Russian aggression, and strengthening the nation’s cyber defenses. Since it was first passed over 50 years ago, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is the annual legislation that provides tools to support our defense and military, has only been vetoed four times, highlighting its great importance. In each case, the Presidents who vetoed objected to an actual provision in the defense bill, and each time Congress was able to find a compromise that earned the President’s signature. Never before has a defense bill been vetoed in order to gain leverage in negotiations of domestic policy. 

The defense bill not only secures resources for our security; it also provides for the pay, retirement benefits, and medical needs of our men and women in the Armed Services. This NDAA enhances the military retirement system by creating additional options for military members to save for the future. It also boosts pay and medical care for troops and their families—including better access to urgent care and improved care for those transitioning from military service.

The Senate passed the bill on a bipartisan vote of 73-26, and the House passed the bill on a vote of 269-151 with support from both sides of the aisle. Last week, Congress sent the NDAA to President Obama for his signature. The bill even included the exact amount of support requested by President Obama. In spite of overwhelming bipartisan backing, the President vetoed the bill as leverage for his domestic agenda. President Obama rejected the NDAA because he wants to end current spending limits for domestic spending on federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. This is the first time that the Commander-in-Chief has placed domestic spending over national security by vetoing a bill that provides pay and benefits for our troops.

With such strong bipartisan support in Congress for this critical defense legislation, I will urge my colleagues to vote to override the President’s veto. It is vital that we fulfill our constitutional responsibility to provide for our national defense.