Defense bill advances in House, Dems blast lack of debate on Afghanistan

While Republicans noted that they have tripled the number of amendments compared to when Democrats ruled the House, Democrats accused the GOP of blocking consideration of a bipartisan amendment to accelerate the military transition out of Afghanistan by 2013, and transfer security operations to Afghanistan by 2014.

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This language — from Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) — was one of about 100 amendment not made in order. But supporters of the amendment said rejecting it was a shocking move that prevents opponents of activities in Afghanistan from having any say on U.S. policy there in the next fiscal year.

Further, they said its rejection shows Republicans do not want to consider it for fear it might pass.

"Our position is clearly where the country is," Smith said on the floor. "The majority didn't want to have to vote on that, didn't want to have to have that debate. So they froze out our amendment."

Smith stressed that he can't recall speaking out against a rule for any bill, but said the way this issue was handled demanded that he speak.

"It is not allowing us to have our position on the single-most important issue that faces our country right now in the Armed Services Committee, the future of the war in Afghanistan — it is not allowing us to have our position debated and voted on on the floor," he said. "I can think of no greater reason to vote down a rule than that."

"I'm sorry that … many on my own side would not allow this amendment to get to the floor so we could have an honest debate, and we could say to the American people, we care about your $10 billion," said Jones. "We care about your sons and daughters and it's time to stop sending them to give their life for nothing in Afghanistan."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) recalled comments from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who said he has "no fear in allowing the House to work its will."

"The rule to consider this bill is not only unfair, but inconsistent with the majority's stated goal of having an open process," Hoyer said.

Republicans said the rule does allow consideration of an amendment from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to immediately end activities in Afghanistan. But supporters of the bipartisan amendment said that is not the same as their proposal, which allows some time for the United States to prepare the withdrawal.

McGovern noted that language in the underlying bill, H.R. 4310, would require the United States to keep at least 68,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2014.

McGovern also criticized Republicans for rejecting an amendment that would strike funding for the creation of a missile defense site on the East Coast by the end of 2015. McGovern called this project an "East Coast Star Wars fantasy base."

"The defense bill provides $100 million in start-up money for the East Coast base, and to bring it into operation by 2015 will require another projected $5 billion," he said. "Why shouldn't we have such a debate on an expensive proposal like that? Or is all the Republican talk about cost-cutting and putting our fiscal house in order as big a fantasy as this silly Star Wars proposal?"