WASHINGTON – The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto a defense bill, fiercely objecting to provisions limiting President Barack Obama's authority to reduce the nation's nuclear arsenal and decide the fate of terrorist suspects.
In a statement, the Obama administration said it generally supported passage of the legislation, which would provide $553 billion for the Defense Department in next year's budget and an additional $118 billion to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the administration identified three provisions that would prompt the president's advisers to recommend that Obama veto the bill.
"The administration has serious concerns with several provisions that constrain the ability of the armed forces to carry out their missions (and) impede the secretary of defense's ability to make and implement management decisions that eliminate unnecessary overhead or programs to ensure scarce resources are directed to the highest priorities for the warfighter."
The House began work on the bill on Tuesday and is scheduled to vote on the legislation later in the week.
Last December, the Senate ratified the New START, signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2010. The pact would limit each country's strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also established a system for weapons inspections.
START stands for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The bill includes a provision that would prohibit providing money to the administration for removing nuclear weapons from operation unless it reports to Congress on how it plans to modernize the remaining arsenal. The bill also says the president may not change the target list or move weapons out of Europe until he reports to Congress.
The administration said it objected to the bill's onerous conditions on its ability to implement the treaty. The White House also said the legislation "raises constitutional concerns as it appears to encroach on the president's authority as commander in chief to set nuclear employment policy — a right exercised by every president in the nuclear age from both parties."
Provisions in the bill also limit Obama's authority to transfer terrorist suspects from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign countries. The bill also bars transfer of detainees to facilities in the United States, even for trial.
The administration said that while it opposes the release of terrorist suspects within the United States, the bill's provision "is a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests."
During the debate, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the House Armed Services Committee's top Democrat, said, "In a time of war, we must not take options for trying and managing detainees off the table."
Also drawing a veto threat is language in the bill that would move toward reviving an extra engine for a new fighter aircraft under development.
The administration criticized 17 other provisions in the bill, including language that would delay the new policy allowing gays to serve openly in the military. It said it hoped it could work with Congress to resolve the issues in dispute.