President Clinton vetoed a $265 billion defense bill Thursday, saying its demand for a Star Wars-like anti-missile system would waste billions of dollars and jeopardize decades of arms control efforts.
The president also objected to what he called unfair provisions in the defense policy bill that would ban most abortions at overseas military hospitals and expel service members who test positive for the AIDS virus.
However, in casting the 11th veto of his presidency, Clinton acted to make sure that the men and women of the nation’s armed forces - including troops in Bosnia - receive most of the 2.4 percent pay raise they have been expecting, and that had been included in the bill.
He signed an executive order using existing authority to raise military pay by 2 percent, effective Jan. 1. And he asked Congress to quickly pass legislation bringing the total pay hike to 2.4 percent.
Overall, Clinton said the 1996 defense authorization bill was shot through with objectionable provisions, including some that would have struck at his authority as commander in chief.
The bill “would unacceptably restrict my ability to carry out this country’s national security objectives and substantially interfere with the implementation of key national defense programs,” he said.
But Clinton raised no complaint about the bill’s requirement that the government buy more B-2 Stealth bombers the Pentagon says it doesn’t need.
In a recent interview Clinton said he could foresee situations in which those warplanes might be required beyond the 20 aircraft now authorized.
Clinton used his veto message to strongly object to the attempt by the Republican Congress to force him to commit to deploying a nationwide Star Wars type of ballistic missile defense system by 2003.
“By forcing such an unwarranted deployment decision now, the bill would waste tens of billions of dollars … ,” the president said.
And he said that by requiring multiple anti-missile sites it would violate the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty with Russia.
“By setting U.S. policy on a collision course with the ABM treaty, the bill would jeopardize continued Russian implementation of the START I treaty as well as Russian ratification of Start II,” he said.
Those two treaties reduce the numbers of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads by two thirds and “will significantly lower the threat to U.S. national security,” Clinton said.
Clinton also said the bill’s restrictions on funding for the Bosnia peacekeeping force would invade the president’s foreign policy power.
And he said that while he has no intention of placing U.S. troops under United Nations command, a provision in the bill dealing with that possibility would undermine his authority as commander in chief.
Defense Secretary William Perry recommended Clinton veto the measure.
Clinton also objected to bill provisions he said would:
Restrict the retirement of U.S. strategic nuclear delivery systems.
Slow the pace of the Pentagon’s environmental cleanup efforts.
Restrict the Defense Department’s ability to aid disaster relief efforts.
Order the purchase of specific submarines at certain shipyards.
Require the discharge of service members who test positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Clinton called it “medically unwarranted.”
Restrict female service members and female dependents of military personnel from receiving privately financed abortions at military facilities overseas, even if those facilities are the only safe source for abortions.
Indications are that Clinton’s veto may be sustained on Capitol Hill.
The Senate sent the fiscal 1996 defense authorization bill to the White House on a 51-43 vote. The House vote was 267 to 149. Neither vote mustered the two-thirds majorities needed to override a veto.
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