Biden threatens veto of House GOP defense spending bill

President Joe Biden would veto House Republicans’ Pentagon spending legislation loaded with conservative policy provisions if it reached his desk, the White House warned on Monday.

GOP leaders are pushing to pass the annual defense appropriations bill this week, and will not be able to count on Democratic support due to provisions targeting policies on abortion, climate change, LGBTQ troops and diversity and inclusion. In a statement outlining its objections, the White House mirrored those concerns along with a slew of changes House Republicans made to the Pentagon budget request.

The administration also ripped House leaders for dropping bipartisan side deals to last year’s debt limit agreement, which add funding to non-defense programs over the law’s spending caps, a move they argue would exact billions in cuts to domestic priorities while preserving defense spending.

“Rather than respecting their agreement and taking the opportunity to engage in a productive, bipartisan appropriations process to build on last year’s bills, House Republicans are again wasting time with partisan bills that would result in deep cuts to law enforcement, education, housing, healthcare, consumer safety, energy programs that lower utility bills and combat climate change, and essential nutrition services,” the White House argued in a statement of administration policy on the bill.

Outlook: The threat isn’t surprising, and Biden will likely never need to wield his veto pen.

Even if Republicans can secure the votes to pass the bill this week, the most contentious provisions stand no chance of clearing the Democratic Senate and will likely be dropped from any spending deal that becomes law.

Personnel issues: The administration slammed a slate of provisions that block certain personnel policies, arguing that doing so would have “devastating consequences for the readiness and wellbeing of America’s military and their families.”

Chief among White House objections is a provision that blocks funding for the Pentagon’s policy to reimburse troops who travel to seek abortions or other reproductive care. The administration also opposes Republican-backed language limiting money for gender-affirming care for transgender troops and gutting diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the Pentagon.

Ukraine: The Biden team also chided GOP appropriators for not including any of its $300 million budget request for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a longstanding program to train and equip Kyiv’s troops.

Republicans have said the money isn’t needed after Congress approved more than $60 billion in aid to Ukraine in an emergency package this spring. But leaving the money out also could help GOP leaders lock down votes for hardliners who would otherwise oppose the Pentagon bill if it did include the money.

Democrats have knocked Republican leaders for sending mixed messages with the move, though. And the White House argued it plays into Russia’s hands.

“Eliminating all USAI funding would undermine U.S. national security, undercut Ukraine’s ability to fight Russian aggression, and could cause Russia and other would-be aggressors around the world to question America’s commitment to a critical partner on the frontline of aggression,” the White House said.

Gaza pier: The administration also said it opposes language added to the bill that would defund a humanitarian pier installed by the U.S. military to bring aid into Gaza. Though the beleaguered pier has been criticized as an ineffective method for delivering aid, the White House called it “a valuable tool” and argued nixing funding “would remove a vital link in the humanitarian assistance chain.”

Troop pay: The White House also expressed opposition to an effort by House appropriators to hike junior enlisted troops’ basic pay by 15 percent, on top of a 4.5 percent raise for the entire force. Officials pointed to a Pentagon military compensation review that will assess the issue, and argued the major boost would cost $3.3 billion in fiscal 2025 alone. Incurring the major cost, the administration argued, would force cuts in other parts of the defense budget.