INDIANAPOLIS | U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is poised to again pick the practical over the partisan, putting him at odds with President Barack Obama and his fellow Senate Democrats.
This time Donnelly plans to vote with the Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., to override Obama's expected veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual spending plan for the nation's military that also contains Donnelly's latest proposals to reduce servicemember and veteran suicides.
The measure passed the Senate on Wednesday, 70-27, and cleared the House earlier this month, 270-156.
However, the White House last week threatened a veto because the legislation spends $38 billion more than permitted under the 2011 budget sequestration caps by classifying ordinary military spending as emergency overseas contingency funding.
While Obama repeatedly has urged the Republican-controlled Congress to set new limits on defense and discretionary spending, no agreement has been reached. Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the president will not support a "budgeting gimmick" to get around the current caps.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., promised his members will sustain the president's veto, despite the veto-proof margin by which the plan originally passed the Senate. A veto override vote in the House is expected to fall well short of the required two-thirds majority.
Donnelly said he understands Obama's fiscal concerns, and he agrees with the president that there are better ways to increase defense spending.
But he's still urging Obama to sign the National Defense Authorization Act, because rejecting good legislation while waiting for a perfect plan to come along is the wrong choice.
"I am disappointed to hear the president plans to veto the bill," Donnelly said. "In times like these, we need to set a clear policy with the Department of Defense to move forward and protect our national security, and take care of our men and women in uniform.
"We should all be able to agree on that."
Speaking to Hoosier reporters, the first-term senator, who recently crossed party lines by opposing Obama's clean air rules and supporting a proposal to defund Planned Parenthood, emphasized he believes protecting national security goes beyond the military.
"The safety and security of communities across Indiana rely on federal, state and local law enforcement, on first responders, on strong border security and on the resources we need to combat drug trafficking and drug addiction," Donnelly said.
In addition, Donnelly said his "care package" included in the defense legislation is urgently needed. His package would improve mental health programs for servicemembers and veterans by increasing the number of providers and training all military personnel in suicide risk recognition and management.
Between January and June, 219 active duty and reserve servicemembers committed suicide.
That's just four fewer than during the same six-month period last year, despite increased military mental health screenings provided under Donnelly's 2014 Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act.
An estimated 22 veterans also take their own lives every day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"The suicide rate among servicemembers and vets is not just a tragedy, but a crisis for our country that we have to get down to zero," said Donnelly, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He is confident any revisions to the defense spending plan will leave intact his suicide prevention provisions.
But Donnelly said he'd rather have them enacted into law immediately, rather than wait for a compromise that could take weeks or months to come together.
"We must protect our security and provide for our servicemembers and their families, and I urge the president to re-consider his veto threat and sign the defense bill into law," Donnelly said.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are eager to pounce on Obama for vetoing legislation that includes a pay increase for U.S. troops.
"The president wants to take a stand for greater domestic spending, and he wants to use the vital authorities and support for men and women in uniform as leverage," said U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee. "At a time of increasing threat to our nation, this is foolish, misguided, cynical and dangerous."
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, presidents have vetoed military spending and construction proposals six times since 1961, most recently by Republican George W. Bush in 2008.
Each time, Congress failed to override the veto, eventually removed the provisions the president objected to and the measures were signed into law.