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White House issues objections to defense bill

Nov. 29, 2012 - 03:00PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 29, 2012 - 03:00PM  |  
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With the Senate knee-deep in the second of an expected three days of debate on the 2013 defense authorization bill, the White House has threatened to veto the measure unless some significant changes are made.

This is not a surprise; a veto threat also hangs over the House version of the bill which passed in May.

Among the White House's objections was the Senate Armed Services Committee's rejection of an administration proposal to dramatically increase Tricare fees and copayments.

Instead of the fee hikes proposed by the Pentagon, the committee's plan would cap Tricare increases at no more than the cost-of-living adjustment in military retired pay, usually just a few percentage points.

The White House's Office of Management and Budget said that move would reduce potential savings by an estimated $1.8 billion in 2013 and $12.9 billion over the next five years. "DoD needs these savings to balance and maintain investments for key defense priorities," the policy statement says.

The administration also "strongly objects" to proposed limitations in the Senate bill on closing or moving Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units. "These provisions would force DOD to operate, sustain, and maintain aircraft that are in excess to national security requirements, as defined by the new defense strategy, and are not affordable in an austere budget environment," the statement says.

Also drawing object is a provision that would require any percentage reduction in military personnel levels to be matched with cuts in the federal civilian and federal contractor workforces, a move made by the Senate committee to ensure service members are not singled out for cutbacks if budgets get tight.

The administration "believes the size of the civilian workforce should be determined based on workload and funding, not on arbitrary comparisons to the military. To comply with this legislation, the [Defense] Department would need to significantly divest workload and impose workforce caps," the White House statement says.

The biggest objections involved what the White House sees as interference with executive powers of the president over detainees. The policy statement says the administration has "serious concerns" with a provision in the Senate bill on detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that would restrict the president's authority to transfer detainees elsewhere.

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