PORTLAND, Maine — Expansion of a federal business incentive program for former military bases and a spending plan for destroyers built at Bath Iron Works are on hold after President Barack Obama vetoed a massive $612 billion military spending bill Thursday.
Obama issued the fifth veto of his presidency to reject the spending bill, called the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
Reuters reported Obama said he objected to the way the bill uses money meant for war spending to avoid automatic budget cuts to military programs. The president also objected to provisions that would limit his ability to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.
That veto holds up a provision long-sought by Maine’s congressional delegation and the leader of the redevelopment effort at Brunswick Landing, the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
The defense bill included an expansion of the business incentive program HUBZone, or historically underutilized business zone. The law gives qualifying businesses a leg up in acquiring federal contracts.
To qualify, a business must have at least 35 percent of its employees living on the former military base. Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, has said in previous interviews that the current requirement makes it nearly impossible for a business on a former military base to qualify and “makes it kind of a hollow promise.”
The provision in the bill vetoed Thursday would have allowed employees to live within a certain radius — for Brunswick Landing, about 10 miles — as defined by boundaries outlined by the U.S. Census Bureau.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who got a provision to expand the program into the House version of the bill, called the veto “unfortunate.”
“By adjusting the HUBZone requirements, this amendment would have helped the former Brunswick Naval Air Station recruit businesses to come on to the base and qualify for the HUBZone program,” Poliquin said.
He said he would continue to push for expansion of the program, which was not a point of contention in the president’s veto.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, who secured expansion of the program in the Senate version of the bill, said Thursday that he was disappointed by the veto. The bill also included increased funding for orders of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, such as those built at Bath Iron Works, he said.
“I’m disappointed, but not disheartened, because I believe we can work together to resolve our disagreements, and I am determined to work with my colleagues and the administration to find a way for this bill to become law,” King said in prepared statement.
Republican leaders in Congress vowed Thursday to override the president’s veto, which would require a number of Democrats to switch their initial votes to reach the required two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.
Reuters reported the House will get the first crack at an override on Nov. 5.