By Sen. John McCain
Congress has passed a National Defense Authorization Act, vital legislation providing the necessary funding and authorities for our military and the men and women who volunteer to defend the nation, for 53 consecutive years. This year’s NDAA should be no different.
The NDAA delivers sweeping defense reforms that will enable our military to rise to the challenges of a more dangerous world. The legislation contains the most significant reforms in a generation to a broken acquisition system that takes too long and costs too much. It modernizes and improves our 70-year-old military retirement system, expanding benefits to the vast majority of service members excluded from the current system. The NDAA reforms Pentagon management to ensure precious defense dollars are focused on our war fighters, not on expanding bloated staffs, which have grown exponentially in recent years.
With $10 billion in wasteful and excessive spending identified in the Pentagon’s budget, the legislation invests in crucial military capabilities for our war fighters. The bill accelerates Navy shipbuilding and adds fighter aircraft to address shortfalls across the services. As adversaries threaten our military technological advantage, the bill looks to the future and invests in new breakthrough technologies, including directed energy and unmanned combat aircraft.
Despite these critical reforms, President Barack Obama is threatening to veto the NDAA and future defense spending bills for reasons totally unrelated to national security.
The Budget Control Act, which set in motion dangerous defense cuts, establishes caps on defense and nondefense discretionary spending. There is bipartisan consensus on the dangerous impact these spending caps would have on defense. All of the military service chiefs testified this year that funding defense at the level of the BCA caps would put American lives at risk.
Rather than seeking to avoid this scenario at all costs, the president is using it as leverage to extract increases in nondefense spending. As his veto threat made clear, the president “will not fix defense without fixing non-defense spending.”
Such intransigence shows a disturbing misalignment of White House priorities. It is the first duty of the federal government to protect the nation. With global threats rising, it simply makes no sense to oppose a defense policy bill full of vital authorities that our troops need for a reason that has nothing to do with national defense spending.
The NDAA fully supports Obama’s budget request of $612 billion for national defense, which is $38 billion above the spending caps established by the Budget Control Act. In other words, this legislation gives the president every dollar of budget authority he requested. The difference is that NDAA follows the Senate Budget Resolution and funds that $38 billion increase through Overseas Contingency Operations funds.
Parroting White House rhetoric, some Senate Democrats have been spreading misinformation about OCO funding, saying this funding is inappropriate or somehow limited in its ability to support our military. This is nonsense. The NDAA purposefully placed the additional $38 billion of OCO funding in the same accounts and activities for which the president himself requested OCO money.
To be clear, using OCO to pay for our national defense is not my preference. But given the choice between OCO money and no money, I choose OCO, and multiple senior military leaders testified before the Armed Services Committee this year that they would make the same choice for one simple reason. This is $38 billion of real money that our military desperately needs, and without which our top military leaders have said they cannot succeed.
It remains my highest priority as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee to achieve a long-term, bipartisan solution that lifts the BCA caps once and for all. Obama says this is his goal as well. But the NDAA is a policy bill — not a spending bill — and cannot accomplish that goal. In the absence of such an agreement, I refuse to ask the brave young Americans in our military to defend this nation with insufficient resources that would place their lives in unnecessary danger. Holding the NDAA hostage to force that solution would be a deliberate and cynical failure to meet our constitutional duty to provide for the common defense.
It is simply incomprehensible that as America confronts the most diverse and complex array of crises around the world since the end of World War II, that a president would veto funding for our military to prove a political point. The NDAA before the Senate authorizes $612 billion for national defense. This is the amount requested by the president and justified by his own national security strategy. For the sake of the men and women of our military and our national security, it’s time the president learned how to say yes.