Trump Defense Veto Puts Munition Security, Health Funds at Risk

  • Only weeks remain before the end of the 116th Congress
  • Problematic optics if bill authorizing troops’ pay fails

The Pentagon would miss out on almost $6 billion for new construction projects to protect military bases, munitions, and nuclear weapons if President Donald Trump’s veto of the annual defense authorization bill succeeds.

The Defense Department can’t spend money on new military construction projects until they are authorized in the defense policy bill. That would also include close to $400 million for special operations training facilities; $590 million for schools, daycare centers, and barracks; $200 million for base safety; and $900 million to overhaul shipyards, according to a list compiled by the House Armed Services Committee.

The fiscal 2021 defense policy bill (H.R. 6395) also continues authorizations for military bonuses, hazard pay, and special allowances and benefits for civilians serving in combat zones, all of which expire Dec. 31.

In addition, National Guard members who helped with the coronavirus response would no longer be covered by the military’s TRICARE health coverage, according to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. The defense bill would give Guard members who were placed on active duty to help with pandemic response some extra health coverage for another six months. Members of the Guard usually have health coverage through their civilian employers.

Overall, there are “nearly 200 members of the House who are directly responsible for one provision or another in this bill,” Thornberry said.

Photographer: Bryan van der Beek/Bloomberg
The USS Blue Ridge badge is displayed on the deck during a media tour of the USS Blue Ridge anchored in Singapore, on Thursday, May 9, 2019.

Vetoes and Overrides

Trump vowed to veto the defense authorization bill because congressional leaders refused to include provisions abolishing a technology company liability shield, which is unrelated to defense. Trump has also said he would veto the measure over a requirement to rename military bases honoring Confederate generals.

The House and Senate can override his veto, but the process could be challenged by the short time frame before the 117th Congress convenes on Jan. 3, 2021, and by mixed support among Republicans.

Regular veto: Presidents either sign bills into law or allow them to become law without a signature after a 10-day period. Under a regular veto, the president refuses to sign a bill and returns it, complete with objections, to Congress within 10 days, not including Sundays. Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds affirmative vote in each chamber.

Pocket veto: Pocket vetoes occur when the president refuses to sign a bill while Congress is adjourned. The only way for Congress to circumvent the pocket veto is to reintroduce the legislation as a new bill, pass it through both chambers, and present it to the president again.

Staying in session: The House and Senate will likely continue pro-forma sessions — largely perfunctory meetings where no votes are held — until the 117th Congress convenes. That would allow them to receive a veto message and call the chambers back for an override vote, according to Sarah Binder, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.

“That setup gives Congress a fair amount of wiggle room” on when to send the bill to the president so that the chambers are still in session as the 116th Congress by the end of the 10-day window, Binder said by email.

Pitfalls: “The danger for Congress is if they send the bill to the president after that last 10-day window has begun,” Binder said. “If Congress is late in sending the bill, the president could conceivably veto the bill hours before adjournment,” making it unlikely for both chambers to pull off a vote before the Congress adjourned, she added.

The catch: The scenario planning is contingent in part on Republicans mustering enough votes in both chambers to override Trump’s veto, according to Binder.

Thornberry painted an unpalatable picture: “Members of Congress going home for Christmas while many military families would have their pay go down.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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