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Obama Could Block Bill Over New START Restrictions

President Obama, shown on Wednesday, might veto a House defense spending bill if the legislation retains measures to restrict implementation of a U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty, the White House warned on Tuesday (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais). President Obama, shown on Wednesday, might veto a House defense spending bill if the legislation retains measures to restrict implementation of a U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty, the White House warned on Tuesday (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

The fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill being considered in the House of Representatives could face rejection by President Obama if it retains language restricting implementation of a bilateral nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, the White House warned on Tuesday (see GSN, May 11).

The legislation would establish Obama's adherence to spending pledges for updating the nation's nuclear complex as a prerequisite to the completion of atomic arsenal curbs mandated under the New START accord, Reuters reported (see GSN, April 27).

The administration in 2010 announced a 10-year, $85 billion nuclear weapons complex spending plan as it sought to secure Senate endorsement of New START. The pact, which entered into force in February 2011, requires Moscow and Washington by 2018 to reduce their respective deployed strategic arsenals to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery devices.

The speed and schedule of funding previously backed by the administration are not presently suitable, according to some government sources (David Alexander, Reuters, May 15).

The authorization proposal "would set onerous conditions on the administration's ability to implement the treaty" as well as "onerous conditions on the president's ability to retire, dismantle, or eliminate nondeployed nuclear weapons," the White House said in prepared comments.

One portion of the legislation "raises constitutional concerns as it appears to encroach on the president's authority as commander in chief to set nuclear employment policy -- a right exercised by every president in the nuclear age from both parties," the statement adds.

"If the final bill presented to the president includes these provisions, the president's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill," the White House said (White House release, May 15).

The Obama administration has taken issue with other aspects of the legislation, which would reverse funding curbs recommended by the  Defense Department and allow for almost $4 billion more in appropriations than the Pentagon had requested, Reuters reported (Alexander, Reuters).

"The overall funding level supported by [the proposal] would violate the Budget Control Act of 2011, the bipartisan agreement reached between the Congress and the president to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal course," the White House said. "If the cumulative effects of the bill impede the ability of the administration to execute the new defense strategy and to properly direct scarce resources, the president's senior advisers would recommend to the president that he veto the bill."

The White House also protested measures in the legislation addressing U.S. missile defense operations, including palns for constructing an East Coast interceptor installation.

"Section 223, which would require a missile defense site on the East Coast of the United States, is premature because the administration has not identified a requirement for a third U.S.-based missile defense site, nor assessed the feasibility or cost in a cost-constrained environment," according to the statement. "This section also would mandate the inclusion of a plan to deploy an appropriate missile defense interceptor for such a site in the budget request for FY 2014, an unwarranted intrusion on executive branch decision making."

The bill from the GOP-led House would also impact the program for deploying U.S. antimissile assets to Europe under the "phased adaptive approach" program, which is part of a broader NATO effort to protect the continent from potential missile threats posed by nations such as Iran.

Three sections "would limit funding for missile defense equipment and construction supporting the EPAA  -- the U.S. voluntary national contribution to NATO missile defense -- thereby hindering its implementation and limiting protection of U.S. Forces, allies, and partners in NATO Europe," the White House said. "Finally, section 1236 would unnecessarily impede the president's exclusive authority to conduct discussions with the Russian Federation on cooperative missile defense matters both bilaterally and in the NATO context, would limit the reciprocal exchange of data that could benefit U.S. and allied security, and would be impractical to implement" (White House release).

Responding to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's recent suggestion over the $554 billion legislation's potential to prompt political stalemate, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) in written remarks noted the Pentagon chief's previous assertion that moves to eliminate $487 billion in anticipated defense funding over 10 years had led the department "right to the razor's edge," according to Reuters (Alexander, Reuters).

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