GOP mulls limiting Defense bill changes

The Republican House leadership is considering bringing the Defense Appropriations bill to the floor under a process that would limit the amendments that could be offered to the spending bill, Defense and congressional sources told The Hill.

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The leadership is weighing a structured rule for the Defense bill in order to stop controversial amendments on issues like the National Security Agency, Egypt and Syria, due to concerns that amendments could overly restrict the administration or wind up being used in campaign attack ads, according to defense sources with knowledge of the deliberations.

“They’re concerned about attempts to defund the NSA spying programs or tie the president’s hands in Syria and now Egypt as well,” said one defense industry source.

Limiting amendments to the Defense bill would mark a change for the House appropriations process since Republicans took back control in 2011, as nearly all of the spending bills — including Defense — are considered with an open rule where anyone can offer amendments.

It would also be a blow to Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) pledge to return the House to “regular order,” which was being criticized on Thursday as a new farm bill was quickly brought to the floor.

Defense Appropriations subcommittee chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) confirmed that leadership was considering limiting amendments to the Defense bill, although he said no decision had been made.

“I believe that legislation should come under open rule, but I understand the leadership’s concern, and if that’s what they decide, we’ll work with that,” Young told The Hill.

A spokeswoman for House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said that the Defense bill is “a critical piece of legislation that must be completed in a timely fashion.”

“The committee understands that an exception to a completely open rule on appropriations bills may be made in this case, but does not support it as a precedent,” said Rogers spokeswoman Jennifer Hing.

When a bill is brought to the floor using a structured rule rather than an open rule, the Rules Committee must approve all amendments before they can come to the floor.

The Defense Appropriations bill is always a contentious affair on the floor, with debates on everything from Guantánamo detainees to funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 2014 Defense Appropriations bill passed in committee last month, and defense sources said that typically, it would have already gone to the floor.

But the bill was approved amid a furor from some in Congress over the NSA spying program, and also as the White House said it would begin providing military aid to Syrian rebels.

The ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi — and the ensuing debate over whether the U.S. should suspend $1.5 billion in aid because Morsi was ousted by the Egyptian military — has only added to the list of prickly defense issues.

During debate over the Defense authorization bill, which also had a structured rule, the Rules Committee rejected amendments from both Democrats and Republicans that would have restricted the NSA surveillance programs.

Young said that the Defense spending bill could be brought to the floor as early as next week, though he said there were other issues that might bump it further back on the calendar.

The Defense bill was one of five appropriations bills that Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) said could come to the floor in July in a memo to GOP lawmakers last week.