White House raps House defense bill for blocking spending reforms

WASHINGTON Mon May 19, 2014 7:58pm EDT

WASHINGTON May 19 (Reuters) - The annual defense policy bill making its way through the House of Representatives could force the Pentagon to maintain a bigger military than it can afford at a time of shrinking budgets, the White House said on Monday, warning that a veto was possible.

The Office of Management and Budget, in a statement of administration policy, said the National Defense Authorization Act approved by the House Armed Services Committee had eliminated $50 billion in savings over five years that the Pentagon had proposed in its 2015 budget.

"The bill does not include meaningful compensation reforms and other cost saving measures, rejects many of the department's proposed force structure changes and restricts DOD's ability to manage its weapons systems and infrastructure," it said.

The statement said if the final bill presented to President Barack Obama prevents him from being able to properly direct the Pentagon's scarce resources, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the legislation.

The White House released the statement as lawmakers in the Republican-led chamber are preparing to bring the bill to the floor for a debate, possibly as early as this week. The Democratic-controlled Senate also is beginning work on its version of the legislation this week.

The measure approved by the House Armed Services Committee would block the Pentagon from implementing many proposals it made to cut costs as it tries to implement nearly $1 trillion in congressionally mandated reductions to planned spending over a decade.

In order to achieve the cuts while still having funds for training, maintenance and priority arms purchases, the Pentagon proposed slowing the rate of growth in military compensation, retiring the fleet of A-10 Warthog aircraft and other measures.

The House panel rejected the Pentagon's plan to increase military pay by only 1 percent, approving 1.8 percent instead. It also blocked proposals to reduce the cost of housing allowances, commissary operations and healthcare for retirees.

The White House said the compensation reforms originally proposed in the president's budget would save $2 billion in the 2015 fiscal year, which begins in October, and $31 billion through the 2019 fiscal year.

The House panel also rejected the military's proposal to retire the entire fleet A-10 Warthog close-air support planes, which are popular among ground forces. The White House said retiring the planes would save $4.2 billion through 2019.

It also objected to efforts to block the retirement of other weapons.

"These divestitures are critical and would free up funding for higher priority programs," the OMB statement said.

The White House protested a House effort to force the Pentagon to begin planning the midlife overhaul and refueling of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. Pentagon officials had considered delaying the overhaul or taking the ship out of service because of budget constraints.

The OMB said it was unwise to force the department to begin planning the overhaul when it was unclear whether money would be available to complete the task. (Reporting by David Alexander; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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