The White House is threatening to veto the $642 billion 2013 Defense authorization bill passed last week by the House Armed Services Committee because it spends too much on national security.
The administration signaled last week that it would not support a budget that is $4 billion over the president’s request and $8 billion over the spending caps set last fall by the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the Armed Services Committee chairman, had a terse exchange of statements last week, with Panetta claiming the extra money would actually hurt the military by making it more likely that Congress and the White House will be unable to avoid across-the-board budget cuts in January that could reduce the 2013 defense budget by $55 billion or more.
McKeon, however, said the extra money was part of an effort by House Republicans to prevent reductions so deep that the military would not be able to carry out core missions.
The House is set to pass the defense bill by week’s end, but at some point lawmakers will have to reconcile differences with the Senate, which currently plans to abide by last fall’s spending caps. That could require the Senate Armed Services Committee to find $4 billion in cuts in the Pentagon’s plan when it meets the week of May 21 to write its version of the budget.
This isn’t the only area of dispute. The statement of administration policy issued by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget expresses disappointment that lawmakers have not endorsed Pentagon plans for higher fees in Tricare health insurance and pharmacy co-pays.
The administration was trying to save $13 billion across five years, but the House version of the 2013 defense authorization bill greatly reduced the scope of the Pentagon proposal, allowing only a modest $2.9 billion in savings from small increases in pharmacy co-pays.