Defense Authorization Overview and Update

On May 15, the House approved the FY 2016 NDAA by 296 to 151. Before the final vote, the House considered 135 amendments, but the Republican leadership refused to permit votes on many key amendments. On June 18, the Senate approved the authorization bill 71-25. Of the 600 amendments filed, only 58 were voted upon. There were many speeches and quorum calls and not much action.

Next came three months of on-and-off negotiations on a House-Senate conference agreement. Certain provisions on torture, the Guantanamo Bay prison, Tricare co-pays, the huge increase in the Overseas Contingency Operations account (OCO), and of course, protection of the Sage Grouse (click here to watch the bird’s terrifying mating dance), held up the negotiations.

The conference report was agreed to on September 29. It includes $38 billion over the president’s request for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, an expansion of various missile defense systems, restrictions on funding to dismantle retired nuclear weapons, and hundreds of other policy provisions. See our side-by-side comparison of House, Senate and Conference versions of the defense authorization bill here.

Many Democrats on the two Armed Services committees refused to sign the Conference Report because while defense would be getting a hefty increase, domestic programs would not.

On October 1, the House agreed to the Conference Report by a vote of 270-156. Ten Republicans and 146 Democrats voted against the measure. On October 7, the Senate agreed to the Conference Report by a vote of 70-27. Republican Senators Cruz and Paul joined 25 Democrats in opposing the report.

The president has threatened to veto the NDAA over the $38 billion increase for OCO that evades the budget caps. The vote in the House indicates there is enough opposition to the measure to sustain the president’s veto, should he choose to use it.

Since this is a bill that originated in the House, it is the first-acting chamber if/when the president vetoes the bill. If the House fails to override the veto, the veto is sustained, and the Senate cannot consider it.

Nevertheless, on the floor on October 6, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed that Democrats would be able to produce enough votes to uphold the veto if it comes to it, even though many Democrats voted to pass the report on October 7.

The last president to veto the NDAA was George W. Bush in 2008. “His main objection was over concerns that Iraqi assets in American banks could be vulnerable to claims from victims of Saddam Hussein.”