White House objects to ‘conscience protections’ added to defense bill


WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto a defense spending bill that includes so-called “conscience protections” that critics say would allow service members to promote anti-gay beliefs without fear of discipline.

The language was inserted as an amendment to the House version of the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.)

The amendment adding language protecting “actions and speech.” Opponents say that, as written, the amendment extends the current protections, resulting in situations where service members could go much further in promoting their anti-gay beliefs without fear of discipline.

In a lengthy policy statement, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the language would undermine a commander’s authority to maintain discipline in his unit.

“The Administration strongly objects to section 530, which would require the Armed Forces to accommodate, except in cases of military necessity, “actions and speech” reflecting the “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member.

By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment.”

The OMB expressed additional concerns with the legislation, threatening a recommendation for a presidential veto.

“While there are a number of areas of agreement with the Committee, the Administration has serious concerns with certain provisions. Several provisions would constrain the ability of the Armed Forces to align military capabilities and force structure with the President’s strategy, impede the ability of the Secretary of Defense to reduce overhead and make programs more efficient…

[…] As the Administration indicated previously, the President’s senior advisers would recommend vetoing any appropriations legislation that implements the House Republican Budget framework.”

The House is expected to vote on its version of NDAA this week. The Senate Armed Services Committee is set to consider its version of the legislation on Wednesday.

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