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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. (Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is waiting to see whether Congress uses war funds in the 2017 defense budget before he decides to recommend that the president veto it, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Monday.

During the last month, the House and Senate have passed their versions of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Though each chamber has passed an overall budget of $610 billion, the House version shifts $18 billion from a fund dedicated to war spending to pay for increased troops, aircraft and shipbuilding, a maneuver that Carter criticized as “gambling with funding for our troops.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is pushing the plan to use the $18 billion to address military readiness by tapping into the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, fund to pay for it. This fund is not subject to the spending caps set by sequestration.

The war spending account pays for increased operations against the Islamic State group and increased U.S. troops and equipment in Europe. If the OCO fund runs out before the fiscal year ends, Congress would have to vote to approve additional war funding to replace the $18 billion used in the NDAA.

The Senate version of the bill does not use OCO funds.

“The secretary has been pretty clear about his views on the use of those OCO funds,” Cook said Monday. “He just believes that to rob money from the warfighter in this sort of way is not the right approach.”

Last year, Carter did recommend President Barack Obama veto the defense bill. In October, the president did, in part over policy fights about the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and decisions to increase defense spending while cutting domestic programs.

This year, Carter is waiting to see whether a deal can be made before offering his recommendation to Obama, Cook said.

“We’d like to work with these committees before anyone talks about veto threats,” he said.

Congress will take up part of the bill this week as the Rules Committee decides how the House floor debate on the bill will proceed. Twitter:@TaraCopp

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