Lawmakers Slam Obama for Using Troops as ‘Pawns’ in Spending Fight

President’s likely veto of defense bill helps his domestic agenda, Republicans say

U.S.-S. Korea joint military drill

U.S.-S. Korea joint military drill / AP

BY:

Republican lawmakers criticized President Obama Wednesday for promising to veto the defense policy bill that would authorize about $612 billion in defense funding for fiscal year 2016.

Multiple GOP representatives, including members of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon Wednesday that the president’s promised veto has nothing do with America’s national security but is related to his effort to boost domestic funding for agencies such as the IRS and EPA.

"I believe the president’s desire is to increase domestic spending and use this bill as leverage for him to be able to get the additional moneys for agencies like the EPA and the IRS," Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a phone interview.

"To use our troops and their families as pawns in this political battle, I think, is very dangerous for the president and I hope that his promises or threats don’t pan out and he ultimately signs it."

The National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes the $611.8 billion in defense funding requested by the president, passed both chambers with bipartisan majorities and was delivered to Obama’s desk Wednesday. However, the Obama administration has criticized the bill, and White House press secretary Josh Earnest earlier this month labeling it "an irresponsible way to fund our national defense priorities."

Defense Secretary Ash Carter penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal published Tuesday evening criticizing the defense bill, which moved through the Senate with a veto-proof majority. He argued that the legislation includes "all-too-familiar limits on vital reforms."

Others have characterized the defense bill as the biggest reform the Pentagon has seen in decades.

"What’s really interesting is the fact that the moneys that we are authorizing are the exact same numbers that the president has asked for," Miller said Wednesday. "It’s really baffling to me that the secretary would want to advise the president to veto this piece of legislation because, again, it is our constitutional duty and role to provide for the common defense."

He noted that the "dangerous" state of the world, with conflicts in Syria, Israel, and Afghanistan and the Islamic State’s surge in the Middle East, makes the bill all the more important.

"I think it’s hypocritical that the president would threaten a veto of the defense bill while he’s announcing at the same time that he is going to maintain current troop levels in Afghanistan," Miller stated.

"We are still at war. He may want to reassure the American people that combat is over, but we have men and women that are in harm’s way everyday."

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R., Ala.), also a member of Armed Services Committee, alleged that a veto on behalf of Obama would only weaken America’s standing on the world stage, especially from the perspective of our enemies.

"I know that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin is watching this, [the Islamic State] is watching this, the Chinese are watching this, North Korea is watching this," Byrne told the Free Beacon. "We’ve already had enough weakness, especially in the Middle East."

Byrne also noted that the bill includes multiple reforms to help service members, particularly those who are currently enlisted.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R., Utah), a former Air Force pilot and member of the House Appropriations Committee, accused the president of "holding the military hostage" to increase domestic spending.

"I fundamentally disagree with the president and [Defense Secretary Carter]. I don’t think they’re being honest with the American people," Stewart said, adding that the public will be "offended" by Obama’s promised veto.

A veto from Obama could come as early as Thursday, giving lawmakers some time to drum up more support for the bill. Representatives expressed confidence that the House, which fell just a few votes short of a veto-proof majority in its vote earlier this month, would achieve enough backing to override the president’s veto.

"I do believe that we’ll be able to override the president’s veto. There were a number of House members that were absent from the vote and I believe we will be able to get enough Democrats to come over and help us sustain this veto because it is not an appropriate way for the president to be able to expand his domestic agenda and expenditure of more dollars," Miller said.

Republicans also agreed that a veto would hurt the president’s standing with the American people.

"I think the public understands that the grounds on which he’s threatening to veto this bill have absolutely nothing to do with national security and it’s a dangerous precedent that he’s playing with," Miller stated.

Morgan Chalfant   Email Morgan | Full Bio | RSS
Morgan Chalfant is a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Free Beacon, Morgan worked as a staff writer at Red Alert Politics. She also served as the year-long Collegiate Network fellow on the editorial page at USA TODAY from 2013-14. Morgan graduated from Boston College in 2013 with a B.A. in English and Mathematics. Her Twitter handle is @mchalfant16.