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What Obama's defense veto means to Alabama: Frozen military pay, workers face furloughs

October 23, 2015
In The News

For only the fifth time since he took office in 2008, President Obama used his veto powers Monday, blocking a defense spending bill that was passed by Congress.

The veto of the National Defense Authorization Act starts the clock ticking for a new agreement that must be hammered out before the Pentagon finds itself once again furloughing personnel and cutting almost all programs.

Obama's veto was blasted by Republicans, including Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby.

"I believe that this veto is irresponsible and further highlights that national security is not a priority for the Administration," Shelby said.

The White House maintained it objected to the $612 defense spending bill because it did not repeal the across-the-aboard cuts from sequestration, blocked reforms sought by the Pentagon and prevented the president from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Obama also objected to the use of overseas contingency war funds to shore up domestic programs.

"My message to (Congress) is simple. Let's do this right," Obama said as he signed the veto.

The 2016 bill passed the House 270-156 and 70-27 in the Senate. The House would need to pick up 20 additional votes to override the veto, something that appears to be all but impossible. And while Obama's actions send the act back to the drawing board, it also leaves the issue of military pay increases, as well as the possibility of the furlough of civilian employees, hanging in the balance.

Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, said the veto is dangerous to the security of the country.

"With his veto, the President is not only placing our national security at risk by failing to authorize funding for our military, but is undermining our national security by demanding more domestic spending that further increases our national debt," Palmer said. "As the Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen said, 'The most significant threat to our national security is our debt. '

Pay and furloughs

The NDAA contains an array of items related to Alabama-based programs, as well as benefits for military personnel.

Congress has until Dec. 11 when the current temporary budget expires to reach an agreement or sign another temporary Continuing Resolution funding mechanism. If they fail to do so, pay would stop for military personnel and as many as 400,000 Department of Defense civilians – about half the workforce - would face another furlough. Pentagon workers were furloughed in 2012 over a spending dispute and then again in 2013 as the result of a government shutdown.

The employees eventually received back pay in both instances, though that's not guaranteed.

The Pentagon has confirmed the deadline and what will happen if Congress and the president cannot reach an agreement.

"If the budget does not pass by Dec. 11, and we do not get another continuing resolution, there will be furloughs." DOD spokesman Mark Wright said. "The military would stay reporting for duty every day. They just wouldn't get paid."