The House passed legislation Friday to authorize U.S. defense programs and policy for the next fiscal year, but only had help from 41 House Democrats — 143 Democrats voted against it, following President Barack Obama's threat to veto the bill, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's request that Democrats support their president.
The National Defense Authorization Act has been controversial for Democrats because while it authorizes a total of $612 billion in funding for the Defense Department, it gets there by authorizing $89.2 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led the charge against a bill authorizing defense programs for the next fiscal year, and persuaded most Democrats to vote against it on Friday. AP Photo/Cliff Owen
Democrats and even many Republicans agree that this account, normally used for war operations, has been boosted in order to get around budget caps known as the "sequester" that were agreed to by both parties in 2011. The OCO account isn't subject to the sequester.
But Obama and Democrats say it's not fair that the Defense Department gets to find away around the caps when domestic programs can't. For that reason, the White House said this week that Obama would veto the bill if it got to his desk.
"[T]he president has been very clear about the core principle that he will not support a budget that locks in sequestration, and he will not fix defense without fixing non-defense spending," the White House said in a release.
"Sequestration levels will damage our ability to restore readiness, advance badly needed technological modernization, and keep faith with our troops and their families," it added. "Unfortunately, the bill fails to authorize sufficient funding for our military's priorities, and instead uses overseas contingency operations funding in ways that leaders of both parties have made clear are inappropriate."
Late Thursday, Pelosi also encouraged Democrats to vote against the defense bill.
"Republicans should come together with Democrats in a fiscally responsible way to protect our national security and grow our economy," she wrote. "Until then, I urge a no vote on the Republicans' National Defense Authorization Act to sustain the president's veto."
The final House vote of 269-151 let the bill pass, but that margin not enough to override Obama's veto of the NDAA.
During the debate, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) rejected Democratic arguments that the bill doesn't authorize enough defense spending. He noted that both the House bill and the Obama administration request calls for $612 billion in spending authorization.
"There is no difference between the two," he said.
After the vote, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized Democrats for putting politics above supporting the military.
"[M]any Democrats turned around and opposed fully funding our troops," he said. "They did so without listing a single serious policy concern, letting politics come before national security. With all the threats our troops face and the sacrifices they make, Democrats' opposition to this defense bill is in fact indefensible."
All but eight Republicans voted for the bill, and the GOP position was backed by an editorial in the Washington Post that Republicans noted during the final floor debate. The Post wrote that it has some sympathy for Obama's arguments, but said ending the sequester for defense and non-defense spending isn't realistic at this point, and that Obama therefore needs to step up and support the NDAA.
"When all is said and done, national defense is a clear constitutional responsibility of the federal government; fully funding it should take priority," it said.