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President Obama vetoes 2016 National Defense Authorization Act

By SARAH PEACHEY

In what has been considered an “unprecedented response,” President Obama has said he will veto the $612 billion National Defense Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2016. The president and some Democrats oppose the bill because it “supports a $38 billion plus-up to defense through a wartime account known as Overseas Contingency Operations, which skirts Budget Control Act Caps [familiarly called sequester],” according to Defense News.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said Oct. 22 during a general speech at the Senate that the president plans to veto the NDAA because those who passed the bill bust defense caps, but refuse to bust domestic caps.

The NDAA passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority, but the House passed just below with a vote of 270-156. With the veto, the bill can move back through the house and Senate and be enacted with a two-thirds vote from both levels of Congress. Many are skeptic that the votes will be available.

The 2016 NDAA offered changes to a variety of service member and family benefits:

  • Retirement: The new retirement system suggested by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission early in 2015 would be implemented with this legislation. It changes the 20-year benefits to a 401(k)-style retirement account, called Thrift Savings Plans, for all service members. The government would match up to 5 percent over 26 years. It offered all service members to begin saving for retirement now.
  • Financial literacy training for all service members: This was an MCRMC recommendation.
  • Pay raise: The bill contained a 1.3 percent raise for basic pay, which is below the required percentage required to match private-sector growth. This is the third year in a row that pay raises have fallen below the Employment Cost Index.
  • Guns on installations: Legislation required the defense secretary to implement a new policy allowing personnel to carry personal firearms on base due to the attacks in Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee.
  • Reduction to Basic Allowance for Housing: The legislation allowed the Department of Defense to reduce the BAH by 5 percent of the national average based on pay grade and dependency status. This was an MCRMC recommendation. The drop will take place by 1 percent each year until 2019.
  • Changes to co-pays: Service members would pay more for prescription drugs, mostly affecting retirees who cannot get prescriptions for free at military treatment facilities. Drugs bought at retail drug stores would increase from $8 to $10 for generic and $20 to $24 for brand-name prescriptions.
  • Changes to drug lists: Legislation sought to merge the DoD and Department of Veteran’s Affairs drug lists to not interrupt the continuity of care or prescriptions that are working for service members. This was an MCRMC recommendation.
  • Commissary changes: The bill required the DoD to send a detailed report explaining how to make the commissaries cost-neutral. It would have revoked the $1.4 billion government subsidy.
  • Fixing the child care issue: The bill directed the Defense Department to create a plan to clear wait times for access to child care on military installations. The goal was to improve access to make sure it could be provided within 90 days.

There are some good and bad decisions included in the bill, but some lawmakers, primarily Republicans, feel the veto is dangerous.

“President Obama’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act is not only unprecedented, but it is reckless, cynical and downright dangerous. Never before has an American president used the bill that provides pay and support to our troops and families as political leverage for his domestic agenda. The American people, and most importantly, the men and women in uniform deployed to fight in dangerous war zones around the world, expect more from their Commander-in-Chief,” said a press release by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX).

“This defense authorization bill authorizes exactly as much money as the president requested for national defense. It provides our troops the resources they need for complex missions, and delivers some of the most significant reforms to the Pentagon in more than 30 years. It makes important reforms that improve the benefits, management and acquisition system in the Pentagon. It gives our service members new tools to battle ISIL and al Qaeda, and it provides the Ukrainians the lethal assistance they need to combat Russian aggression. This bill also includes a provision that would enable Congress to adjust the budget categories to match any subsequent budget agreement. The defense authorization bill is the product of bipartisan work, which broad majorities in both houses of Congress have overwhelmingly approved,” the press release said.

The house will hold an override vote on Nov. 5, requiring a two-thirds majority from both levels of Congress.

Information from this article came from Defense News, the National Military Family Association and the Defense Drumbeat Blog by the Armed Services Committee.

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Sarah PeacheySarah Peachey is a 20-something journalist from Pennsylvania, back in the Mid-Atlantic after voyages to the Deep South and Southwest. She lives with her husband, toddler and newborn. She began a career in journalism with The Fort Polk Guardian, an installation newspaper, winning three state awards for her work, and she now freelances for military spouse support sites and consults for MilitaryOneClick. She has a passion for politics and fiery debate. She considers herself a bookworm, pianist, wine enthusiast and crossword addict.

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