Obama Signs $633 Billion Defense Authorization Act — With ‘Objections’ (Updated)

UPDATE:

The Defense Department news release on the President’s signing of the the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (below) does not include some of the restrictions placed on the President by the Bill nor the signing statements by Mr. Obama claiming that he has the constitutional power to override various provisions of the Act.

Some of the restrictions placed upon the President by the law include statutory restrictions on transferring prisoners out of Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay to other countries or into the United States, either for continued detention or for prosecution.

Actually, according to the New York Times,

The bill extended and strengthened limits on transfers out of Guantánamo to troubled nations like Yemen, where the bulk of the remaining low-level detainees who have been cleared for repatriation are from. It also, for the first time, limited the Pentagon’s ability to transfer the roughly 50 non-Afghan citizens being held at the Parwan prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan at a time when the future of American detention operations there is murky.

Other signing statements and concerns dealt with “five provisions in which Congress required consultations and set out criteria over matters involving diplomatic negotiations about such matters as a security agreement with Afghanistan…Several whistle-blower provisions that protected people who provide certain executive branch information to Congress from reprisals — including employees of contractors who uncover waste or fraud, and officials raising concerns about the safety and reliability of nuclear stockpiles,” and “particular objection” to “a provision that directs the commander of the military’s nuclear weapons to submit a report to Congress ‘without change’ detailing whether any reduction in nuclear weapons proposed by Mr. Obama would ‘create a strategic imbalance or degrade deterrence’ relative to Russian stockpiles,” according to the New York Times.

Referring to the restrictions on his ability to transfer prisoners from a detection center in Afghanistan and from Guantánamo Bay, the President said in a statement released by the White House:

Several provisions in the bill … raise constitutional concerns. Section 1025 places limits on the military’s authority to transfer third country nationals currently held at the detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan…

That facility is located within the territory of a foreign sovereign in the midst of an armed conflict. Decisions regarding the disposition of detainees captured on foreign battlefields have traditionally been based upon the judgment of experienced military commanders and national security professionals without unwarranted interference by members of Congress.

Section 1025 threatens to upend that tradition, and could interfere with my ability as commander in chief to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active area of hostilities. Under certain circumstances, the section could violate constitutional separation of powers principles. If section 1025 operates in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my administration will implement it to avoid the constitutional conflict.

UPI reports:

Obama also said Congress has designed and renewed some sections of the act “in order to foreclose my ability to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. I continue to believe that operating the facility weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies, and strengthening our enemies. My administration will interpret these provisions as consistent with existing and future determinations by the agencies of the executive responsible for detainee transfers. And, in the event that these statutory restrictions operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my administration will implement them in a manner that avoids the constitutional conflict.”

The president said he signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 “because it authorizes essential support for service members and their families, renews vital national security programs, and helps ensure that the United States will continue to have the strongest military in the world.”

“Even though I support the vast majority of the provisions contained in this Act, which is comprised of hundreds of sections spanning more than 680 pages of text, I do not agree with them all.”

Read more about Obama’s signing statements, the “tradition” of signing statements and about other administrations’ signing statements here

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Original Post:

Here it is, straight from the horse’s (DOD) mouth, as written by American Forces Press Service’s Jim Garamone:

President Barack Obama signed the $633 billion fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act into law yesterday.

The legislation, which cleared Congress last month, authorizes the department to act in any number of instances. “There are certain things that cannot be done without [the authorization act],” said a senior defense official speaking on background.

The act allows the department to institute pay raises, bonuses and incentive pay for personnel. “All military construction has to be authorized under this act,” the official said.

It includes a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel, and contains $527.5 billion for DOD’s base budget, $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations and $17.8 billion for national security programs in the Energy Department and Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

It also extends the Commanders’ Emergency Response Program that has been used in Afghanistan and Iraq. It authorizes a one-year extension of the Afghan Infrastructure Fund and extends the Coalition Support Fund and the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund. In Iraq, the law authorizes U.S. training activities, the official said.

The law also authorizes changes needed to deter sexual assault in the military.

In addition, it establishes the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission which will examine all aspects of military compensation. Officials stress that any possible changes to military retirement benefits that the group recommends will not affect current service members.

Air Force structure was of some concern to the department going into the process, but officials say they were pleased with the outcome. The Air Force also received 32 more C-130 aircraft than requested.

“But the Air Force is allowed to do everything else. They are allowed to do their divestures and moves,” the official said. “The only thing kept out of service’s force structure plan was we had to keep the Global Hawk Block 30 [unmanned aircraft].”

The act raises the co-pay for medications under TRICARE through 2022. The legislation also limits any annual increases in pharmacy co-payments to increases in retiree cost of living adjustments.

“It is a little bit toward what we need to start paying for how much health care is costing,” the official said.

The authorization also provides DOD funds for servicewomen who need abortions in case of rape or incest. “So they don’t have to take leave and come home or go out on the economy,” the official said. “This is the first time this has been approved.”

Among other programs, the act authorizes the defense biofuel initiative as well as counternarcotic authorities. “We use this a little bit in Afghanistan, but it’s mostly in the southern border and Colombia,” she said. “It has to get done.”

Passage of the legislation is particularly important this year because the department is operating on a continuing resolution through March which may be continued again through the rest of the fiscal year. The resolution maintains funding at 2012 budget levels. Without this authority, “Things really do shut down,” the official said.

“It actually is things that keep the war going and things that … keep the economy going because it is pay, recruiting, military construction,” the official said.

Logo: Department of Defense

         

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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3 Comments

  1. Glad to see it. Very important. For so many years I was not in favor of defense spending until I seperated it from “offense” spending. Some really BAD decisions to get involved in wars we couldn’t pay for that put our men in harms way.
    The military is an essential part of who we are and until we live in the world of Star-Trek planets that have no more wars, will remain.
    Need to take of our people and our country.

  2. At what point to we say “we are in a Constitutional crisis”? Obama is continuing the (IMO improper) Bush-era trend on signing statements, and there are certainly enough Congress vs White House shenanigans going on that something is fundamentally wrong.

  3. Hi Barky,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Many share your concerns about signing statements — including yours truly.

    But, keeping things in perspective, Obama has used them 20 times since taking office, while his predecessors have done such much more, and:

    The practice peaked under President George W. Bush, who used signing statements to advance sweeping theories of presidential power and challenged nearly 1,200 provisions over eight years — more than twice as many as all previous presidents combined.

    –New York Times

    I know, a (much) fewer number of times does not make it right.

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