President Joe Biden on Monday threatened to veto House Republicans’ plans to fund the Defense Department for 2024 because of its provisions that would dramatically limit reproductive care options and military diversity training.
The White House statement comes just a few days before House members are scheduled to vote on the $826 billion Defense Department budget plan for fiscal 2024. Chamber Democrats have already voiced strong objections to the package, but Republicans hold the majority in the chamber. Senate Democrats have also denounced the proposed measures, and any final bill would have to be passed by their chamber as well, where they hold the majority.
If the bill somehow did reach the president’s desk in its current form, White House officials said Monday that they’d recommend vetoing it because of “numerous new, partisan policy provisions with devastating consequences including harming access to reproductive healthcare, threatening the health and safety of LGBTQ+ Americans” as well as preventing the administration “from promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
The acrimony between the two parties represents another serious division with less than three weeks to go before a federal funding lapse triggers a partial government shutdown. Conservative lawmakers have urged their leaders to demand more concessions from the president and Senate before reaching a short-term or long-term spending deal.
The veto threat echoes one released by the administration in July threatening to veto House Republicans’ plans to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs next year.
Earlier this summer, lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee inserted language into both bills that would limit abortion access to veterans and service members. White House officials said access to reproductive healthcare is “critical to servicemembers and their families, and the Department’s ability to recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force, of which nearly 20 percent are women.”
Republican lawmakers also included provisions to cut back VA diversity and equity programs, and limit future training requirements in those areas for staff, service members or veterans.
In the veto threat statement, administration officials also offered a long list of additional concerns with the defense appropriations plan, including provisions limiting climate change research, restrictions on reduction of detention operations at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, and opposition to the retirement of two ships: the USS Germantown and the USS Tortuga.
Presidential advisors also voiced concerns about plans to boost basic pay for junior enlisted service members above a planned 5.2% raise next January, saying the budget as written would not cover the full costs of such a plan.
“If enacted, this change would lead to pay compression in some areas of the enlisted military basic pay table, and would create an unfunded requirement of several billion dollars,” officials said.
Additionally, the White House criticized a $1 billion cut to the Defense Department’s civilian personnel funding, arguing it would result in an “untenable downsizing and suppression of the civilian workforce.”
Furthermore, the statement said the Biden administration “strongly opposes” a provision that would give U.S. Southern Command jurisdiction over military relations with Mexico, moving it from Northern Command.
While Republicans hope that putting Mexico under SOUTHCOM would give the military a larger role in combating fentanyl trafficking, the White House argued such a move would “disrupt North America’s unified defense approach and create a seam between two combatant commands on the U.S. border” while undermining the president’s authority as commander-in-chief.
The White House also took issue with the bill for its handling of munitions procurement and microelectronics funding.
While the statement praised the bill’s multiyear funding for five munitions – the PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement, Naval Strike Missile, Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, Joint Air-Surface Standoff Missile and the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile – it objected to the fact that it did not appropriate the $1.9 billion the Pentagon requested for bulk orders of the Standard Missile 6 and Advanced Medium Range Anti-Air Missile.
Additionally, the White House opposes a $257 million cut to advanced microelectronics research and development through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.