National Security

Obama Threatens Veto of Defense Spending Bill if TRICARE Costs Are Not Increased

White House also angling for smaller pay raises for troops

AP

The White House has threatened to veto a key Pentagon spending bill unless lawmakers increase the amount of money U.S. troops pay for healthcare and decrease pay raises for troops, among several other things.

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act does not increase the fees associated with TRICARE, the Pentagon’s in-house health system, the White House said Monday evening in a statement that threatened to veto the spending bill over this and other issues.

"The administration strongly urges the Congress to support its proposed TRICARE fee increases," the statement said.

The administration’s threat to veto the spending bill drew sharp criticism from some on Capitol Hill.

"For years, the Obama administration has swollen the federal workforce and asked the military to pay for it," one Republican congressional aide told the Washington Free Beacon. "The president is forcing nearly 200,000 troops out of uniform" as a result of deep defense budget cuts known as sequestration.

"Now he’s cutting the pay of those lucky enough to survive," the aide said. "After three huge cuts to the military in four years, it’s time the Obama administration look elsewhere for savings."

"Perhaps they can start with the IRS," the aide said.

The spending bill would authorize the Pentagon’s 2014 budget, meaning that a White House veto could stall and even jeopardize critical Defense Department operations.

Congress has long opposed the fee increases and has gone out of its way to restore savings that would lower costs for those enrolled in the healthcare program.

A failure to increase TRICARE fees and co-payments, as well as to cut other military programs, "could result in hundreds of thousands of low-income children losing access to Head Start programs, tens of thousands of children with disabilities losing Federal funding for their special education teachers and aides," the White House said.

At the same time, it is demanding Congress increase TRICARE costs. The White House is also pressuring lawmakers to nix a proposed $580 million pay raise for the troops that it says goes above and beyond its initial request.

The White House statement criticized Congress for not adhering to its strict guidelines regarding troop pay raises.

"The bill provides $580 million in additional appropriations to fund the pay raise in [fiscal year] 2014, but it would increase costs by a total of $3.5 billion from FY 2014 through FY 2018," the White House argued.

The White House prefers a "1.0 percent increase to basic pay, a 4.2 percent increase in the basic allowance for housing, and a 3.4 percent increase in basic allowance for subsistence."

The White House’s call to increase TRICARE’s costs comes as nearly $1 trillion in defense cuts bears down on a military still recovering from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sequestration has already grounded warplanes, impacted troop readiness, and created a general unease among the nation’s fighting forces, critics say.

Another $52 billion could be slashed from the defense budget come October if lawmakers fail to agree on a budget compromise.

TRICARE cost increases and pay raises are not the White House’s only complaints with the current spending bill.

The president also objects to a provision of the bill that would prohibit the transfer of terrorists from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

The bill would currently prohibit the Obama administration from using taxpayer money to transfer Gitmo prisoners to the United States or other locations.

"The continued prosecution of terrorists in federal court is an essential element of counterterrorism efforts—a powerful tool that must remain an available option," the White House said.

The administration argued that it reserves the right to prosecute these terrorists in any manner the president sees fit, which includes transferring these inmates to America or shipping them to foreign host nations.

"The administration strongly opposes" an additional provision of the bill that "would prohibit the use of funds to construct, acquire, or modify a detention facility in the United States to house individuals held in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay," the White House said.