President Barack Obama has followed up on his promise to veto the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, an annual defense policy bill. Defense One reports that the veto is only the president's fifth and coincidentally, is only the fifth time the NDAA has been vetoed since it was first introduced 53 years ago. Other presidents to have vetoed the NDAA include Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush.
The president had repeatedly promised to send the legislation back to Congress on the grounds that it exceeds budget caps by providing funding through an Overseas Contingency Operations fund and includes restrictions that make it more difficult to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
At a rare veto signing ceremony with reporters, the White House issued the following veto message:
THE PRESIDENT: As President and Commander-in-Chief, my first and most important responsibility is keeping the American people safe. And that means that we make sure that our military is properly funded, and that our men and women in uniform get the support, the equipment, the support for their families that they need and deserve when they protect our freedom and our safety.
The bill that has been presented to me authorizing our defense -- excuse me -- the bill that’s before me, authorizing our defense spending for this year, does a number of good things. It makes sure that our military is funded. It has some important provisions around reform for our military retirement system, which is necessary to make sure that it is stable and effective. It’s got some cybersecurity provisions that are necessary for an increasing threat.
Unfortunately, it falls woefully short in three areas. Number one, it keeps in place the sequester that is inadequate for us to properly fund our military in a stable, sustained way and allows all of our armed forces to plan properly. I have repeatedly called on Congress to eliminate the sequester and make sure that we’re providing certainty to our military so they can do out-year planning, ensure military readiness, ensure our troops are getting what they need. This bill instead resorts to gimmicks that does not allow the Pentagon to do what it needs to do.
Number two, unfortunately it prevents a wide range of reforms that are necessary for us to get our military modernized and able to deal with the many threats that are presenting themselves in the 21st century. We have repeatedly put forward a series of reforms eliminating programs that the Pentagon does not want -- Congress keeps on stepping back in, and we end up wasting money. We end up diverting resources from things that we do need to have the kind of equipment and training and readiness that are necessary for us to meet all potential threats.
And the third thing is that this legislation specifically impeded our ability to close Guantanamo in a way that I have repeatedly argued is counterproductive to our efforts to defeat terrorism around the world. Guantanamo is one of the premiere mechanisms for jihadists to recruit. It’s time for us to close it. It is outdated; it’s expensive; it’s been there for years. And we can do better in terms of keeping our people safe while making sure that we are consistent with our values.
So I’m going to be vetoing this authorization bill. I’m going to be sending it back to Congress. And my message to them is very simple: Let’s do this right. We’re in the midst of budget discussions -- let’s have a budget that properly funds our national security as well as economic security. Let’s make sure that we’re able, in a constructive way, to reform our military spending to make it sustainable over the long term, and let’s make sure that, in a responsible way, we can draw down the populations in Guantanamo, make sure that the American people are safe, and make sure that we’re not providing the kinds of recruitment tools to terrorists that are so dangerous.
The text of the 2016 NDAA as it currently exists can be found here.