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Editorial: Defense bill, important to Nebraska and the nation, deserves final approval
Inappropriate veto threat

Editorial: Defense bill, important to Nebraska and the nation, deserves final approval

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A U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint from the Offutt-based 55th Wing takes off from RAF Mildenhall in England in April 2019. The new defense authorization bill approved by Congress contains major funding for modernization for the 55th Wing at Offutt.

For years, our nation’s military leaders have urged Congress to set budgets for our military through a methodical, responsible process.

The elements of the process are straightforward and sensible: Tie funding to key strategic goals determined by the Pentagon and congressional analysts. Hold deliberations to hammer out consensus amid parochial requests and ensure that the overall defense budget supports the key goals. Then follow up by approving regular appropriations rather than stalemating on the budget and funding the military through ad hoc measures disconnected from strategic priorities.

Congress, to its credit, has followed that type of responsible approach in drawing up its defense authorization bill for the upcoming fiscal year. The bill received strong bipartisan support (335-78 in the House, 84-16 in the Senate) as lawmakers recognized the conscientious approach taken by the respective committees.

Yet, President Donald Trump is threatening to veto the bill, and if enough House Republicans peel away, it won’t be possible to override the veto with the required two-thirds support.

The president’s rationales for the veto are weak. He first voiced opposition because the legislation would require the renaming of 10 Army bases currently named for Confederate officers. Such a complaint doesn’t come anywhere close to justifying a veto that would block the entire $740 billion drawn up for national defense, including a 3% pay raise. Rep. Don Bacon, who served on the House-Senate conference committee that drew up the final version of the bill, was a key figure in the House on the base renaming issue. He appropriately urges that the bases be renamed for figures such as Medal of Honor recipients.

The president then complained that the defense bill didn’t contain a provision he wants to punish big tech companies. But the appropriate vehicle for addressing that topic is commerce-regulation legislation, not the nation’s defense budget process.

Then this week the president claimed the bill was soft on China. That’s a remarkable assertion, given that the legislation was drawn up with strong input from the Pentagon and includes billions for a host of cyberdefense innovations, artificial intelligence projects and major purchases of conventional weaponry of direct relevance to countering China (such as $9 billion for 93 F-35 fighters and $2.5 billion for a new attack submarine). As if that weren’t enough, the legislation funds a $2.2 billion Pacific Deterrence Initiative specifically directed to China’s security threats.

The legislation also contains provisions of direct importance to Nebraska: nearly $200 million for needed investments and modernization for the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, plus major funding to build a new National Guard vehicle maintenance facility in North Platte.

Under a provision from Sen. Deb Fischer, the bill would fund a pilot program by which civilian-military partnerships would boost medical surge capacity and strengthen federal response to pandemics and other threats. It’s fitting that the University of Nebraska Medical Center, respected for its pandemic expertise, would have an opportunity to participate.

For all these reasons, it greatly serves the national interest for the defense bill to become law. Congress, including the Nebraska and Iowa delegations, must be stalwart in seeing that final passage happens.

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