WH Threatens to Veto Defense Spending Bill Over Religious Liberty, Gitmo, Green Energy

Fred Lucas | June 13, 2013 | 5:19am EDT
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A military chaplain leads soldiers in prayer in Afghanistan (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The White House is threatening to veto a House defense spending bill if it contains provisions protecting religious liberty, keeping the Guantanamo Bay prison open, cutting the Pentagon’s green energy program and other provisions that President Barack Obama opposes.

The House Armed Services Committee approved the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act last week, and it now goes to the full House for consideration.

In a policy statement, the White House said, “if the bill is presented to the President for approval in its current form, the President's senior advisers would recommend that the President veto the bill.”

The bill authorizes $552.1 billion in spending for national defense and another $85.5 billion for the international war on terrorism, or “overseas contingency operations.” It calls for an East Coast missile defense, limits the president’s ability to pursue unilateral nuclear arms treaties, and blocks the Pentagon’s latest effort to closes military bases. (The latter provision “impinges on Executive Branch prerogatives to…improve military effectiveness and efficiency,” the White House said.)

The House Committee also approved an amendment offered by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) that directs the U.S. military to “accommodate the beliefs, actions, and speech of a member of the armed forces reflecting the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member…”

This comes amid reports that Pentagon officials have met with activists from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a church-state separation group, about preventing “proselytizing.”

Homosexual advocacy groups and the White House firmly oppose the beefed-up conscience protection: “By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment,” the White House statement said.

The NDAA also would replace temporary facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to ensure that the terror suspects are not transferred to the United States.

The legislation requires the Defense Department to “report  on former terrorist detainees who have been released and subsequently become leaders in a foreign terrorist organization,” and it requires a report on the “attachment of any rights that would confer to detainees transferred to the United States.”

In its objection, the White House says the provisions “would continue unwise funding restrictions that would prohibit the construction or modification of a detention facility in the United States to house Guantanamo detainees, and would constrain our ability to transfer Guantanamo detainees, including those who have already been designated for transfer to other countries.”

“Operating the facility at Guantanamo weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies, and reinforcing propaganda used by al Qaeda to attack the United States and our values,” the White House statement continues. “Prohibiting the transfer of detainees to the United States and restricting the transfer of detainees to the custody or effective control of foreign countries or entities in the context of an ongoing armed conflict may interfere with the Executive Branch's ability to determine the appropriate disposition of detainees and to make important foreign policy and national security determinations regarding whether and under what circumstances such transfers should occur.”

The bill would also curb the Defense Department’s green energy program “if the investment is not fully offset by the amount of energy conserved,” the Armed Services bill summary says. “The Secretary is prohibited from refurbishing or constructing new biofuel facilities unless specifically authorized by Congress, and DOD is only permitted to produce or procure biofuels if their cost is equivalent to conventional fuels or if sequestration is resolved. The provision provides an exemption to protect research and development funds.”

This provision also drew objections from the White House, which said it “would inhibit development of a diverse, cost competitive energy supply that enhances American energy security. A diverse approach to energy security — one that includes both conventional and new sources -- will provide an enduring benefit for our economy and military capabilities.”

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