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Obama vetoes defense spending bill with rare ceremony

President Obama speaks during an event about criminal justice reform in Washington on Thursday.

President Obama speaks during an event about criminal justice reform in Washington on Thursday.

(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama vetoed the 2016 defense spending bill Thursday afternoon, fulfilling his promise to block Congress’ plan to increase the budget for a war account that has evolved into a broader source of funding while leaving spending caps in place on other government programs.

Obama disagrees with the $612-billion bill in part because it would add $38 billion to a separate war account not subject to spending caps.

“This bill instead resorts to gimmicks that do not allow the Pentagon to do what it needs to do,” Obama said.

In an unusual veto ceremony in the Oval Office, Obama said he was sending the bill back to Congress with a simple message: “Let’s do this right.”

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Obama agrees that Pentagon spending should increase, but only if domestic programs are also more robustly funded. Severe federal spending were implemented in 2011 under a so-called sequestration agreement, and Obama is committed to lifting them across the board.

“We’re in the midst of budget discussions -- let’s have a budget that properly funds our national security as well as economic security,” he said.

Obama also dislikes provisions in the bill that would make it harder for him to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The action represents the first time Obama has made good on a threat to veto the bill because in past years he thought the veto would be overridden.

This year, though, aides to the president believe lawmakers will side with him and sustain the veto, despite sharp criticism about his approach. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) pledged Thursday that the veto would be sustained.

Critics complain that Obama is going too far to gain leverage over the budgetary process. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) signed the defense bill this week and sent it to the White House for the expected veto, complaining that Obama was playing games with national security.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said Thursday that Obama was sending the wrong message to U.S. military personnel.

“He took the well-being of our military and the security of our nation hostage and used it to demand a ransom of more bloated spending for his domestic agenda,” McCarthy said. “What kind of message does that send to our troops when the commander-in-chief puts his partisan goals above their well-being? This is now the first presidential veto of a troop funding bill that has absolutely nothing to do with our troops, military readiness or even defense policy in general.”

The veto means Congress must either change the defense policy bill or make peace with Obama over the bigger budget disagreement.

For more White House coverage, follow @cparsons

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